§ Order for Second Reading read.9.38 am
§ Mr. Peter Lloyd (Fareham)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill's object is to amend and extend the Cinematograph Acts of 1909 and 1952. They require that films—with limited exceptions—may be exhibited to the public only if the premises have been licensed by a district council or, in London, by the GLC.
The licensing authority has three specific roles. First, it has a duty to ensure that appropriate fire and safety regulations are enforced in the premises concerned. Secondly, it has a duty to prohibit the admission of children to performances deemed unsuitable for them. Thirdly, it has the power but not the duty to impose what conditions it thinks fit, subject to appeal to the courts on their reasonableness, on what is shown to adults.
In practice most licensing authorities follow the model licensing conditions issued by the Home Secretary and accept any film passed by the British Board of Film Censors in whatever category the board happens to place it. Sometimes the authorities impose stricter requirements on a particular film and occasionally some have been more indulgent towards a particular film.
The board has no legal status of its own. It was set up by the industry in 1913 as a measure of self-regulation. It is now completely independent of the industry in that its finances come from the fees that it charges to film producers for categorising and certificating their films. Its key role and authority is sustained by its ability to retain the confidence of local licensing authorities. It is the authorities which have the legal powers and the last word.
The Act deliberately excluded from licensing film exhibitions given in private dwellings, film exhibitions to which the public are not admitted, or are admitted without payment, and film exhibitions given by organisations that are certified as non-profit making by the Customs and Excise, so long as the public are not admitted on payment on more than three days out of any particular seven.
It is plain that in making these exceptions Parliament was trying to confine licensing to the commercial cinemas and to exclude genuine private film societies and charitable, educational, church, political and sporting organisations which might want to show films from time to time as part of their general programme of activities.
The exceptions have provided a loophole in the law that is increasingly exploited by cinemas which are, in effect, open to the public but which masquerade as private clubs to escape the limitations and obligations that a licence would place upon them. It is remarkably difficult to prosecute them under existing law. There is no easy definition of a club. The light penalties for infringement mean that such clubs, even if they are prosecuted, can, immediately after conviction, continue to operate as they did previously.
An attempt was made in 1973 to remedy the defects that I have described. The 1973 Bill secured a Second Reading and went into Committee but it fell with the dissolution of 1216 Parliament in 1974. I hope that this Government will hang on long enough to enable the House to place this Bill on the statute book.
The Bill differs in particulars from the earlier measure as it has benefited from the arguments that were advanced in the House and in Committee and from the contributions made by outside bodies. The Bill has benefited also from the sympathy and interest of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, who I am glad to see in his place. I express my thanks to him and his officials for their advice in framing the Bill in a manner that effectively meets my purpose and which, I hope, avoids the pitfalls that await those who—
§ Mr. Thomas Torney (Bradford, South)
I have read the Bill but I am not a lawyer and I find it difficult to understand the legal jargon. Will the Bill close some of the dreadful pornographic cinemas that are so prevalent in Soho?
§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
Surely any person can go to a cinema in Soho and become a member of the "club". A membership card is issued and the person is usually entitled to five years membership. How can the law preclude anyone from joining such a club? Is it possible to introduce legislation to forbid people joining such clubs? Members of the public can become members of clubs and thereby enter licensed premises without going to see films. How will the Bill stop films being shown?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his interest. If I continue with my remarks, he will find that the issues that he has raised will become clear. If they do not, I trust that he will intervene later. I respond to the interventions of the hon. Members for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) and Ogmore (Mr. Powell) by saying that the advice that I have received has enabled me to frame the Bill using words that mean what I mean them to mean and which have the same meaning for lawyers.
I wish also to thank the Metropolitan Police, who have described to me their problems in enforcing the law as it stands. I thank the British Board of Film Censors, which has given me its views on the role that it plays and can play and expressed its worry about the increasing trend of violence in the films that come before it.
The central provision of my Bill is designed to restore the operation of the law to approximately what Parliament originally intended. Its purpose is to make licensing provisions apply to film and video exhibitions that are promoted for private gain. All such exhibitions that are commercial enterprises will be subject to the licensing authority like any other cinema, irrespective of whether they claim to be clubs or indeed are clubs. The test will be whether they are run for private gain and private profit and no longer whether the general public are admitted with or without a membership card, whether the card was issued 48 hours before they entered the premises for the first time or whether membership is supposed to run for one year, two years or five years.
The Bill is also designed to ensure that the exemptions that Parliament originally intended will continue. Bona fide film societies that are not run for profit and from 1217 which the general public are excluded, exhibitions for which there is no payment for admission and non-profit making organisations that have a Customs and Excise certificate will still be able to give film shows at intervals for which they make charges so long as the proceeds are devoted to the wider objects and purposes of those organisations.
I am conscious that the Bill is attempting to deal with a complex area of the law and that there may be worthwhile specialist organisations that do not quite fit the exceptions and for which the obligations imposed by a standard licence would be an excessive burden. If there are such organisations, I hope to accommodate them by means of amendments in Committee. If that is not practicable, I shall look, through my hon. and learned Friend, to the Home Secretary to give appropriate guidance to licensing authorities by means of my right hon. Friend's regulations and model licensing guidelines, which I am sure he will revise if the House accepts the Bill.
There is an urgency about this matter because the number of bogus clubs is growing rapidly. It is difficult to estimate their number but I understand that in London there are about 70 whereas a year ago there may have been 60. There have been corresponding increases outside London.
The recent development in video technology has made the small video lounge, which is easily started, a profitable proposition. The first and immediate gain from the legislation that I am proposing is that it will ensure that safety regulations apply to such premises. Many of the clubs and lounges have single narrow exits and entrances either upstairs or downstairs. They could prove a death trap if fire broke out and exact a horrible and excessive penalty on those who have patronised unlicensed premises.
There is a second and significant change that is set out in clause 6. The penalty on conviction for promoting unlicensed exhibitions will be raised from a maximum of £200 to £1,000. Most important, the court will have power to seize the equipment used in the offence. The third change worth noting is that clause 1 of the Bill makes it clear that the law applies to exhibitions of moving pictures, however produced. It is doubtful whether earlier Acts properly cover video exhibitions.
Of particular interest is the fact that licensing authorities will be empowered to make conditions about the nature of films shown. The bulk of films exhibited in the bogus and unlicensed clubs are pornographic. I am conscious that that term is widely used in debates, and that people have different ideas about the nature of the material described. The films that may be seen in unlicensed cinemas vary widely, ranging from less explicit to more explicit depictions of heterosexual activity between consenting adults. Judging by their decisions under the Obscene Publications Act 1964, some juries take the view that some of that material does no real harm in restrictive locations. However, the clubs do not show only such material. It ranges through homosexual encounters, various connections between men and women and what are, presumably, consenting animals, and other minority practices which, to put it mildly, are extremely unattractive to those who do not share such predelictions.
I do not want to enter into the argument about the effect of such films—whether they be harmful, neutral or cathartic. That debate must remain inconclusive, at least until our understanding of human psychology is much 1218 greater. I am sure that the House will agree that society is justified in setting limits on what may be made generally available for public view. The questions that must be debated and decided are the extent of the limits and who should decide them.
I would not have used my coveted Private Members' time on such a Bill were I not concerned about material that I have not yet mentioned, the great increase in sadism and violence on film. Most hon. Members share that concern, as do the public and the British Board of Film Censors. That concern led the Williams committee on obscenity and film censorship, set up by the Labour Government—a committee with impeccably libertarian credentials—to reach the conclusion that clubs must be brought within the licensing requirements. On page 144, paragraph 12.8, the committee states:We feel it necessary to say to many people who express liberal sentiments about the principle of adult freedom to choose that we were totally unprepared for the sadistic material that some film makers are prepared to produce. We are not here referring to the explicit portrayal of sexual activity or to anything which simply attracts charges of offensiveness. Films that exploit a taste for torture and sadistic violence do raise further, and disturbing, questions.The committee was right in its remarks.
Violence is not necessarily always sexual. I have seen Kung Fu films shown in martial arts clubs that were plainly calculated to arouse sadistic pleasure by lingering on the depiction of pain, mutilation and death. More usually, the violence is sexual—rape, and, as an added bonus, mulitiple rape—where the woman's resistance is invariably portrayed as transformed by the enforced experience into abject gratitude, or where sexual mutiliation, torture or simply menace and threat are obsessively retailed.
I dwelt a little on the nature of the films because when discussing such matters the subject is often lost amid a welter of twittering adjectives such as "shocking" and "disgusting", which may just serve to convince the averagely tolerant that there is nothing much to worry about. In describing such material, I do not want to convey the impression that the extreme sadistic material accounts for the majority of films shown in most clubs. But such films are made and are available in increasing quantities and it is in the unlicensed clubs and lounges that they receive their public showing.
Nor do I wish to suggest that everyone seeing a sadistic film will be attracted to emulate it. Far from it. Yet I do not find it convincing to be told that the aggression of the minority who are addicted to such material is, satisfactorily and happily for society, being acted out vicariously. Common sense suggests that for such addicts the threshold of violence, especially against women, will be lowered when women are constantly depicted as meriting or welcoming the fate that they have unsuccessfully tried to resist. That conclusion is supported by recent academic research at the university of Wisconsin, which clearly distinguished between the effect of non-violent pornographic films and sadistic film material.
I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. It is imperative that district councils should have the power to license all cinemas operated for private gain. With the support and advice of the British Board of Film Censors they have discharged their responsibilities wisely 1219 and effectively for the traditional commercial cinemas. I believe that they would act effectively and appropriately in the area of new commercial clubs.
§ Mr. Ray Powell
We all know that we can purchase pornographic video tapes for £35. We can purchase them from numerous sources—not only city centres, but in the provinces and even the rural areas of Wales. The tapes are shown at home, in clubs and, sometimes, in church halls. I am a Welsh Methodist, and I see the main difficulty as being how to tackle the fundamental problem of introducing a law to deal with that development.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman intended to tell us how he would determine what material was pornographic. That is a difficult problem. He mentioned cinemas that showed well-advertised films. We could go to Soho, join a club and see the material that the hon. Gentleman wishes to restrict. Yet only 100 yards away a cinema may show advertising films on a far greater scale than advertising in most clubs. Perhaps customers are touting for that sort of viewing material in that area. Such films are advertised in The Standard—
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
Order. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman hopes to catch my eye later to make his speech, but I must remind him that this should be a brief intervention.
§ Mr. Powell
I simply wish to ask one or two fundamental questions so that I shall be aware of what the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd) is trying to introduce before I try to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and participate in the debate.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I hope that the hon. Gentleman catches your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so that he can continue his line of thought. My Bill is a rather more modest measure than he feels is needed. He may be right about what is needed. My Bill deals with the commercial exhibitions of unlicensed material. Commercial exhibitions of films and videos will not, under the Bill, be permitted until they have been licensed.
The hon. Gentleman thought that I was about to embark on a description of what is or is not pornographic and what should or should not be allowed. I ventured to discuss the films solely to give the House some idea of the range of material. It will, of course, be up to the licensing authority to set its requirements, perhaps along the lines of the model requirements set out by the Home Secretary. The only substantial and objective requirement is that films must be within the law, mainly as provided by the Obscene Publications Act 1959.
I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce my Bill and I look forward to hearing what hon. Members have to say about it.
§ 10 am
§ Mr. Thomas Torney (Bradford, South)
I commend the Bill, but I am not sure whether it goes far enough. That does not mean that I shall oppose it. It is a necessary and helpful step in the right direction.
When I go to Soho, I am appalled. I go there fairly often to the few good restaurants that have not been hounded out by the pernicious people who run pornographic cinemas.
§ Mr. Torney
I do not wish to advertise them, but I will tell the hon. Gentleman about them privately if he wishes.
I am sure that the people who deal in pornographic material are past masters at getting their own way. It is well known that they have been able to hound out legitimate traders, shop owners and restaurateurs in Soho by buying leases and freeholds and opening more and more of these horrible sex shops. That process has reached the stage where I am almost ashamed to take a visitor, particularly a foreign visitor, to a Soho restaurant. If the Bill will reduce the number of such places, all power to the hon. Gentleman's elbow.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), who has just left the Chamber, talked about clubs. That is a difficult area. I hope that the Minister, who is a lawyer and is perhaps well versed in these matters, will explain the legal implications of the Bill and give an assurance that it is strong enough adequately to control the difficult problem of clubs. I am sure that the House has no desire to curb legitimate film clubs that show educational films. I do not suggest for a moment that the Bill would do that, but we should certainly not interfere with such clubs.
As I have said, pornographic merchants are past masters at twisting and getting around the law. We must give the correct exemption to legitimate educational film clubs, but in so doing we must not leave the door open for clever and nasty people to carry on their pernicious business. I have taken Soho as an example merely because I think that it is the worst area for such practices in any large town or city. It is not a serious problem in my constituency, but we who spend a great deal of time in London and take foreign visitors to the West End are ashamed at what we see.
I look forward to hearing the Minister's explanation of the legal implications and how we can exempt ordinary, legitimate clubs so that they may continue to function while these clever people who wish to break, twist or get round the law are prevented from doing so.
In conclusion,I hope that the Bill will achieve all that the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd) hopes. I give it my support.
§ 10.6 am
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
I welcome my hon. Friend's initiative in presenting this timely and valuable Bill. I shall take up only some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney).
I am not a lawyer, so I shall be interested to hear what my hon. and learned Friend the Minister, as a very fine lawyer, says about the legal aspects. The Bill seems to tidy up an area of gross abuse in relation to pornography. We have already passed the Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981, which forbids the flaunting of pornographic magazines and other materials of a lewd nature outside premises. I strongly supported that, and it was warmly welcomed in all parts of the House. The Government have also introduced proposals for the compulsory licensing of sex shops.
I shall not go into whether licensing implies approval of sex shops, as that is outside the scope of this debate, although the principle of the Bill has some bearing of the issue.
The Bill makes the licensing of sex cinemas compulsory, and I warmly welcome it for the following reasons. At least, we have the opportunity of some control over the activities of the wide boys—that is the best 1221 description of them—who are making a fast fortune out of the frustrated, the bored and the lustful who attend these tours of titillation. I doubt whether the provisions will be strong enough to stamp out the unlicensed video shows to which my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd) referred. I look to my hon. and learned Friend for guidance on this, however. I am doubtful because the fines provided are minimal.
The maximum fine is £1,000 for a person who operates without a licence. If a charge of £20 or more—I am told that it is often much more—is made for entrance to a sexy film show, only 50 spectators are needed to cover the fine. Perhaps my hon. Friend will consider that point and make the penalties much tougher. There is no doubt that the business is too profitable for such relatively low penalties to be a deterrent. The provision for on-the-spot searches and investigations by the police is very valuable. However, to obstruct the exercise of that important power would result in a fine of only £200. That is a paltry sum to these wide boys, and not much consolation to any police officer trying hard to do what can be a difficult job and keep his helmet on at the same time.
Any individual can view any film he wishes in his own or any other private home, without fear of retribution, as long as no one makes a profit. That is already the law. What we all find abhorrent, and what is outlawed in the Bill, is the showing of films for profit without a licence in a public place, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham said.
We can still look forward to all those delightful films made by private societies to which attention has already been drawn in the debate without worrying about licences. We can, however, prevent sex cinemas from operating without any regard for local feeling by making it necessary for them to be licensed by law. That is what the Bill is about.
We must not be lulled into a false sense of complacency, or think that all the problems of pornography will be solved by the passing of the Bill. The vital responsiblity for licensing sex cinemas will be with the licensing authority. If local people feel strongly that a sex cinema should not be allowed to operate on the corner of their street, they must canvass the support of their councillors, who will make the decisions as members of the licensing authority. That is a valuable democratic function, the stimulation of which is a worthwhile aspect of the Bill.
§ Mr. John Ryman (Blyth)
The hon. Gentleman says that it is necessary to have a licensing authority to control such establishments where local feeling is against them and that in such circumstances a licence should be refused. Why cannot such a refusal be made under existing legislation? Cannot the local planning authority refuse planning permission if it receives objections to such an application? Why is the licensing system necessary?
§ Mr. Greenway
I am not a lawyer and I am not fully equipped legally to answer what is a legal point. As one who likes to look at matters absolutely straight—as the public do—I believe that we need a system that deals with the problem of pornography. It should not be necessary to resort to a legal process that solves the problem on planning grounds. Of course, people have resorted to such devices and I do not blame them for that. I believe in open
1222 government and I think that the Bill provides for much more open government in this important area. For that reason I welcome it.
§ Mr. Peter Lloyd
Once a planning application has been granted there is no control so long as the premises remain as a cinema and are used as such. Licensing gives the licensing authority a continuing influence over the nature of the material that is shown in the cinema after planning permission is given.
§ Mr. Greenway
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. If the Bill passes into law it will be up to local people to take the opportunities it gives them to argue against the licensing of sex cinemas. That is very valuable.
It would be valuable if attention were to be paid by some suitable authority to the content of films shown in either licensed or unlicensed establishments. Audiences at such establishments sometimes become stimulated and excited to the extent that, on leaving the shows, they may be a danger to other people in the vicinity.
On visiting Soho a few months ago, I and a number of other hon. Members noticed that there were sex shops and unlicensed cinemas showing pornographic material near schools and dwellings. The people who came out to meet us said that the shops and cinemas were a great danger to their children. People go to the shows and see the sort of explicit sex film described so clearly by my hot:. Friend the Member for Fareham. They leave the cinema in an over-stimulated mood and are a danger to people in the area, particularly to children. This is especially so where there is a school in the vicinity. It is clear there should be control over the type of material that is shown.
A sex shop was opened not far from where I live. Soon afterwards explicit sex films were shown on the premises. On the outside, in huge letters, there was the invitation "Come and see explicit sex here". It was deeply offensive to people in the vicinity. Underneath the invitation there was further information, in smaller print, about the films. I am glad to be able to say that action was taken—
§ Mr. Ray Powell
By switching on a television set, at a time when one's children or grandchildren may be present, it is possible, is it not, to see explicit sex scenes? Are not such scenes available, on general TV viewing throughout the country, quite apart from what may be shown in sex shops or sex cinemas?
§ Mr. Greenway
That is true, and I deeply regret it. However, one has to be fair and acknowledge that some effort is being made by the BBC and ITA to improve standards.
I was a teacher for 22 years and sometimes people complained that the language of children was appalling and pornographic, yet the people making the complaint would all condone the use of grossly foul language on television and the sort of explicit sex that has a profound influence on children. That sort of contradiction is unacceptable.
Last night I happened to see an advertisement on ITV relating to sex counselling. It was accompanied by a titillating scene in which a couple were kissing in a particular way. It was profoundly offensive. People telephoned me about it. Consideration should be given in a Bill such as this to the standards of advertisements on television and elsewhere.
I hope that when cinemas showing sex and other pornographic films are licensed, as we hope they will be 1223 as a result of the Bill, there will be some control on how the premises and their wares are advertised. It is important that that should be so, for the reasons that I have already given. I also hope that the Bill will set a standard for the good running of such places. Many of the premises, particularly the unlicensed ones, are extremely crudely run by low IQ staff, who often have to act as bouncers, and often bounce the wrong people. Therefore, the sound running of such premises needs to be considered.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham was right to refer to sadistic films and to call for standards. We all deplore explicit sex films, but sadistic films are highly dangerous, particularly to children who find their way into such shows, whether on licensed or unlicensed premises. I remind the House of William Golding's fascinating novel "Lord of the Flies". It was about a group of children, including very small children, who were cathedral choristers and who crash landed on a coral island after a nuclear holocaust. Within days they lost all self-control because there were no adults. Their elected leader said "We have no adult to tell us what the rules are." He was overthrown by a self-appointed leader and within a couple of days the children were killing each other, and showing the most appalling and sadistic traits of character.
Perhaps the writer's assertion in that interesting book was that there is original sin in all of us—that is a deep question in itself—which will come out if it is not kept under control by social convention and the implanting of goodness. I know from experience that it does not take much to bring out sadistic behaviour in some children. They can behave crudely and cruelly to other children, and to animals. I have known children do appalling things such as taking the claws from cats and cutting off cats' ears. Such behaviour is encouraged by sadistic films which are a disgrace to any civilised community.
If the Bill can help to control that, as I believe it can, it is warmly to be welcomed, but it is also welcome for so much else that it does.
§ Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd) on his good fortune in the ballot and on choosing this subject. I welcome the Bill, as it is designed to close a loophole in the cinema licensing laws.
Some of us have reservations about how cinemas are controlled at the moment, and about the arrangements for film censorship. However, as long as the Cinematograph Acts are on the statute book and cinemas are subject to certain controls, we must ensure that they are not evaded and that all loopholes are closed, particularly in relation to sex cinemas.
As hon. Members have said, there are no limits to the ingenuity of the pornography industry. A great deal of money is at stake and business is booming. Every effort is made by the profiteers to avoid restrictions on their activities, whether imposed by Parliament or by local authorities. They will seek to exploit any loophole that they can find, even in the Bill before us.
There is increasing concern in the House and outside about the spread of pornography in shops and cinemas, throughout the media and in other aspects of life. The House has had recent experience of the difficulties of legislating in this area. Our debates on the Indecent 1224 Displays (Control) Bill and on the licensing of sex shops revealed several of the problems that we face. First, it is difficult to define in a Bill exactly what activities we are seeking to control in order to protect those who wish to be protected from offensive or harmful material.
There is also the difficulty of enforcing such control without an excessive infringement of civil liberties and while allowing people the freedom to express their views and feelings through different media and allowing others to be free to see and hear what they choose. Other problems include the penalties to be imposed, the exent of fines, whether to imprison those who do not obey the law and last, but not least, whether the measures that we introduce will have the desired effect and will be enforceable. That doubt certainly pervaded our discussions on the Indecent Displays (Control) Bill and it remains to be seen whether that Act has had the effect that its sponsors and Parliament hoped that it would.
Piecemeal legislation by the House is not desirable. It would be better if the Government introduced the necessary legislation. They did that in relation to sex shops and sex cinemas a few days ago. On the Report stage of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill the Government produced out of the hat a long clause on sex shops. Its length and sudden production took most people unawares.
The Minister of State, Home Office, said:The Government may…wish to reconsider at a later stage whether it is necessary to apply these proposed licensing controls to cinemas"—[Official Report, 3 February 1982; Vol. 17, c. 335.]if today's Bill is adequate to deal with the mischief. We have the strange situation of the Government possibly giving way on one of their measures in favour of a Private Member's Bill. So often, the situation is reversed and the private Member gives way on his proposals in favour of Government legislation.
Ideally, there should be comprehensive legislation to rationalise the obscenity laws, as was recommended by the Williams report. Every time the House deals with one aspect of the matter in a piecemeal fashion, the unsatisfactory nature of other parts of the obsecenity law is revealed. The Williams report, which was published more than two years ago, unanimously concluded that films and film censorship should not be considered under the same umbrella as other art forms. I think that we all agree that films are a separate subject. The printed word, by its nature, is neither immediately offensive nor capable of involving the harms that films can inflict. The influence of cinema techniques is far more powerful. Thus it is right that films should be censored before they are marketed, not afterwards.
The Bill seeks to ensure that films shown at certain cinema clubs are subject to local authority licensing, and there is a possible restriction on what the clubs show. However, the present system of film censorship is full of anomalies and nonsenses, which the Bill simply perpetuates. Certainly, it does nothing to deal with them. The legal powers of the local licensing authorities to censor films are hardly ever used—something that the promoter did not mention. In fact, the GLC had a famous debate in 1975 about whether to opt out of censorship altogether for people over the age of 18.
Only about 72 of the 370 licensing authorities in England and Wales take a regular interest in film censorship or bother to review or preview films, although 1225 that is one of their powers and duties. The system has become outmoded and has little support, even from the local authority licensing bodies. Only occasionally do they prohibit the exhibition of a film. When that happens and the film is banned in an area, the publicity is so enormous that people flock to the neighbouring area to see the film. It is no wonder that the Williams committee unanimously recommended that censorship imposed by local authorities on the basis of their powers to license cinemas should be ended.
Another anomaly is the British Board of Film Censors. It consists of a few people acting as a self-regulatory and self-perpetuating body. Many of its members are connected with the film world. They are not elected, and are not really answerable to anyone. I am not sure what their qualifications are as arbiters of what it is right or wrong for other people to see.
What should we put in its place? The Williams committee recommended a body with the title of the Film Examining Board, but it really amounted to a State quango. It would be almost State censorship, because presumably the quango would be appointed by the Home Secretary. So with all its deficiencies, the British Board of Film Censors is the best system that we have so far.
The Bill attempts to deal with one of the more blatant abuses of the present law. There is clear evidence of the loophole that is being exploited in the Cinematograph Acts. The control over what is shown that is given to cinema licensing authorities is being deliberately flouted by bogus commercial cinema clubs, which have the sole purpose of exhibiting for private gain films that would not be passed under the censorship arrangements. It appears that anyone passing in the street can become a so-called member of a so-called cinema club simply by paying the required small amount and perhaps giving a name and address—any name and address that comes to mind. That person can then be admitted. In practice, therefore, those clubs are open to the general public.
I wonder whether the promoter of the Bill, in addition to extending local authority licensing powers to include cinema clubs, has considered the Williams committee report, which recommended that only censored films should be shown in those clubs. At the moment, as I say, many of them specialise in uncensored sex films. That would strengthen what he seeks to do. He seeks to give local authorities the power, if necessary, to restrict what is shown, but would he go as far as to say that only censored films should be shown?
§ Mr. Peter Lloyd
The films would have to conform with any licence that the local licensing authority imposed on cinemas. It is most unlikely that the licence would not require the films to have been seen by the local authority or—as is more likely in the anomalous circumstances that exist, according to the hon. Lady—by the British Board of Film Censors. The Bill seeks to put into the hands of locally elected people a power at law. If films shown in cinemas licensed by the board offend against the Obscene Publications Act 1959, the local authority would be in breach of its proper responsibilities.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I am worried that licensing authorities will not take their powers and duties any more seriously than they do at present. I have illustrated how that happens at the moment, and how only about 72 out 1226 of the 370 in England and Wales take a regular interest in the subject. However, I hope that they will take the matter more seriously as a result of the hon. Gentleman's Bill,
§ Mr. Lloyd
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way again. Her worry is not really a worry at all. She says that local authorities accept the British Board of Film Censors' certification as their guideline. It is not a matter of local authorities ignoring or shuffling off their responsibilities. They say that the British Board of Film Censors, with its independent and professional approach, gives them guidance that they find wholly satisfactory. When the hon. Lady talks about the anomaly of the British Board of Film Censors, I wonder whether she is saying that if one were to invent a rational structure one would not come up with the structure that we have, or whether she is saying that the advice given by the British Board of Film Censors to local authorities is not good advice, or that it could be immeasurably improved. Or is she saying that local authorities would be better to take decisions other than those recommended to them by the British Board of Film Censors?
§ Dr. Summerskill
Ideally it would be preferable if films were seen by both the British Board of Film Censors and the local authorities. The films that are shown in the cinemas that we are discussing are uncensored. They are not seen by the British Board of Film Censors, nor by local authorities. I hope, therefore, that when the Bill becomes law the films will be censored by the board and seen by the local authorities. As with much legislation, one does not know how it will work until it is actually working.
§ Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, West)
The hon. Lady's remarks are extremely interesting and helpful. However, let us suppose that in the licence granted to a cinema club there was a general condition that only censored films should be shown. Would that not reduce the burden on local authorities, because they would simply check occasionally that any film shown had been censored by the British Board of Film Censors?
§ Dr. Summerskill
I am sure that that is what the Williams committee had in mind. The whole function of the British Board of Film Censors is to censor films. Films of any kind should not be available, as they are now, to the general public through these bogus cinema clubs. I should like all of them to be censored, as the Williams committee recommended.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) mentioned the development of video exhibitions. It is an important technological development which, for some strange reason, the Williams-committee did not deal with. The report contained no mention of video cassettes or discs, although they represent a business that is spreading rapidly in every high street. It is strange that a child can go into a shop in the high street and buy, take home and play on a television set the video cassette or disc of an X film that the same child would not be allowed to go into a cinema to see. There is also the issue of totally uncensored films on video cassettes and discs that can be played in cinemas. The whole area of video exhibitions needs to be examined carefully. I should like to know the attitude of the Minister. In the debate on the Williams report on 26 June last year, the hon. and learned Gentleman said:It is a very important new development and one to which the Government wish to give careful attention."—[Official Report, 26 June 1981; Vol 7, c. 550]
1227 The hon. and learned Gentleman will perhaps say what attention he has given to the matter and the result of that attention. The British Board of Film Censors certainly appreciates the importance of very severe—if that is the word—censorship of films of every kind. The board recommends that the phrase "depraved and corrupt" should be kept when considering films, although most people agree, like the Williams committee, that other aspects of censorship, relating to books and so on, could be abandoned.
In relation to films, however, those words constitute a broad description that must be included. The promoter is not endeavouring to extend censorship into video cassettes and exhibitions. It is, therefore, more towards the Government that I address my remarks when I say that the censorship of all types of cassettes and discs that are for sale in high streets and which can be shown in cinemas should be examined.
§ Mr. Frank McElhone (Glasgow, Queen's Park)
I seek guidance from my hon. Friend, who has had experience as a Home Office Minister. The Minister of State may also, perhaps, take up the issue. I support the Bill. As a magistrate and councillor in the city of Glasgow, I had the unenviable task of being asked to go along on Saturday mornings to judge this type of film. There was a wide disparity of view between those who considered that James Joyce's "Ulysses" should never be shown because it was highly pornographic and those who took a more liberal attitude. Has my hon. Friend a view on the guidance that should be given to councillors? Many of my colleagues and myself found that there was no guidance. There is need for guidance or a code of rules on what is depraved and what is corrupt. The interpretation is so wide that proper censorship can never be achieved by a local authority.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The whole purpose of a board of film censors is to give such guidance. The present method of categorising films can be criticised. An alternative system was produced by the Williams committee. It is a matter that the House can consider, and, indeed, did consider during the debate on the Williams report. It is for each local authority to ensure that all the films it sees are ones that have been censored by the board. The local authorities can also take into consideration, if they wish, the feelings of their constituents. They can take into consideration the area and locality and what are considered to be the feelings of the people in that area. It is left to each area to decide for itself. That is not an ideal system. People will simply go from one area to another to see a film. There is much to be said for a national system with no variations.
Non-profit-making film societies should be allowed to continue unlicensed. There are active film societies in most hon. Members' constituencies. We have no desire to include them within the scope of the Bill. The promoter mentioned private gain and private profit. The Williams committee recommended that there might be value in the law stating explicitly that film shows promoted by religious, educational and charitable bodies should be deemed not to be promoted for private gain. If this recommendation were adopted, non-profit-making film societies would be excluded from the Bill. Those bodies would be able to promote film shows without anyone 1228 misinterpreting the situation and believing that the shows were staged for private gain. I hope that the promoter will consider the recommendation.
I hope, too, that the promoter is certain that, when the Bill becomes an Act, genuinely private organisations showing films only to genuine members will be distinguished from bogus organisations. It is important that the genuinely private organisation with genuine members should not be included in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman may care to tell us how he intends to make that distinction.
Under the Bill, the penalty for unlicensed exhibitions will not exceed £1,000. The Government's proposal in their Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill relating to sex shops is £5,000—far higher than the penalty suggested by the hon. Gentleman. The Opposition suggested during the debate on the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill that even £5,000 is chicken feed for the people who are making the sort of money available in this business. I hope that the Minister and the promoter can agree on a sum in excess of £5,000. That will be needed if the Bill is to be at all effective or to have any deterrent effect.
§ Mr. Greenway
This is an important and fundamental point. Will the hon. Lady agree that the principle to be applied in considering the level of fine should be that the fine should be enough to bring such a business near to the point where it is finished—perhaps not quite but very nearly? Will she agree that this means fines of the level of £10,000 or £20,000?
§ Dr. Summerskill
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. The practitioner, if I can give him that name, could fork out £5,000 at regular intervals without it affecting the business. For the fine to be effective, it must affect his livelihood and business.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The Opposition tentatively suggested prison sentences under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill because we were so dissatisfied with the inadequacy of the Government's proposals for a fine. The Opposition are reluctant to put people into prison for this sort of offence because we are trying to reduce the number of people sentenced to prison at the moment.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I can only say that if a fine can be effective, that is preferable to putting someone into prison. We are trying to impress on the Government both in the Bill and in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill that it is far better to have an effective fine than to have to resort to prison sentences.
§ Mr. Edward Lyons
The hon. Lady can rest assured that the Social Democratic Party supports her views.
§ Mr. McElhone
I support the view put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Ryman). Such operators destroy the moral fibre of society and corrupt and destroy family life. I have a high regard for my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), but I believe 1229 that her statement on behalf of the Opposition is incorrect. I have sat as a police judge in courts and I have been encouraged to send people to prison for offences that are not as dangerous and insidious as this sort of offence. Despite the pressure of overcrowding in the prisons—we do not want to add to the difficulties of the Home Office—those are dangerous and corrupting offences, for which people should be sent to prison. We would be failing in our duty as legislators if we did not say that.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I agree that those are dangerous and corrupting offences. If those people are adequately hit in the pocket, that will make them think twice before they carry on such activities without a licence.
I hope that the Minister and the hon. Member for Fareham will carefully consider some of the points that have been made. We shall consider in detail the Bill's provisions in Committee.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)
I hope that it will be for the convenience of the House if I intervene in the debate now to state the Government's views about the Bill that has been introduced so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd). I was grateful that he said kind things about our officials in the Home Office and the help that they gave him in the preparation of this timely and much to be welcomed Bill. I am certain that his words will have been most gratefully received in that quarter.
The Government have been glad to co-operate with my hon. Friend in bringing forward the Bill. I join in the congratulations offered to him by the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) on not only his good luck in the ballot but his discrimination in having used his opportunity to bring forward the Bill.
In essence the Bill closes a loophole. It is plain from hon. Members' speeches that there is deeply held feeling about the nature of the material that is shown in the so-called clubs with which the Bill deals. We all know from our postbags that those feelings of antipathy and, in many cases, revulsion towards what is shown in the clubs—or some of them—are widely held. However, it is important to say that the purpose and thrust of my hon. Friend's Bill is to close a loophole that has been opened up in practice in recent years, but which Parliament never intended.
The loophole is in the licensing scheme that is provided by the Cinematograph Acts 1909 and 1952. Those Acts enable local authorities to license cinematograph exhibitions. To put it in a nutshell, my hon. Friend's Bill says that there shall no longer be a loophole whereby an operator—or practitioner, as the hon. Member for Halifax said—may say "Ah, but I am not subject to the licensing scheme laid down by Parliament under the Acts because the public are not admitted to my premises. My premises are a club. Therefore, I can show what I like when I like and to whom I like without having to be licensed by the local authority."
Whatever view may be taken on the moral question relating to the material that is shown in those premises—I align myself with much of what has been said today on that question—we all agree that it is important that Parliament's intention that such premises should be licensed should not be circumvented by a technical device that is being exploited on such a wide scale.
Therefore, the Bill performs a useful service in correcting some serious defects that have been opened up 1230 in the present legislation. As my hon. Friend generously acknowledged, it owes a debt to the Cinematograph and Indecent Displays Bill introduced in the 1973-74 Session. No doubt my hon. Friend is much encouraged by the success of my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) in tackling the other half of that 1973 Bill last Session. I refer to the Indecent Displays (Control) Bill introduced by my hon. Friend, which is now on the statute book. I regret that the hon. Member for Halifax gave it less than an enthusiastic or optimistic welcome at the time. Today she observed that no one knew whether it was doing any good at all. However, I am happy to tell her that it is my impression at any rate that it has already had a salutary effect in the areas that it was designed to bear upon.
§ Mr. Mayhew
Experience, and what is called nowadays anecdotal evidence. I am a great student of perjorative words and of fashions, I learned that if one wants to decry something that everyone else regards as common sense, one calls it anecdotal. On that basis, the gospels could be entirely disregarded. I am satisfied that anecdotal evidence is generally quite reliable. I am not: in the least put off if anyone tells me that the evidence that one gains from one's knowledge and from what one heats is anecdotal. Therefore, the Act is already having a salutary effect.
§ Dr. Summerskill
This is an important matter. We are discussing the success of the last piece of legislation on this general subject. My anecdotal evidence is that it is not having a great effect. I can only weigh that against the hon. and learned Gentleman's evidence. I hope that in clue course his Department will provide satistical evidence—I suppose that he will have to wait two years, as with the short, sharp shock experiment—evidence of convictions or any type of concrete evidence rather than anecdotal evidence on how the Act is working. I should like to have that evidence as, like the hon. and learned Gentleman, I can rely only on anecdotal evidence.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I can only say that convictions seem to be an inaccurate and unreliable guide because the Act introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove intended the removal from display in public places of material that was offensive in terms of that Act. It would be a measure of success of the Act, not its failure, if convictions were few.
I am sure that hon. Members have discovered that it is far from easy to find one's way around the particular corner of the law upon which the Bill bears. The Bill, while introducing major changes to the law, commendably seeks at the same time to bring together and to clarify some provisions which are common to all the relevant statutes. Overall, however—I make no bones about it—the law is difficult to follow.
It may be helpful to add that the Government see a good case for building on my hon. Friend's good work in this respect by preparing, in due course, a measure which will consolidate all the present legislation and bring it together in one statute. That will enable it to be more readily understood and consulted and is something which will be widely welcomed.
§ Mr. McElhone
As many people are concerned about this, could the Minister be more precise about how he 1231 intends to consolidate legislation already passed with what is proposed in the Bill? There is a great deal of indifference in police forces, not least police forces in London towards trying to use the legislation, because of bitter experience over the Humphreys case and the tremendous corruption that has been exposed. Unless the Home Office gives a strong lead, the police will be unwilling to act—I say that as a former member of a police authority. Could the Minister be more precise about what is intended?
§ Mr. Mayhew
I understand what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone) says, and his close interest, which is based on personal experience of these matters. I do not think that I can be more precise than to say that it is our intention, in due course, to bring together in one consolidating statute the legislation that at present bears upon the exhibition of this kind of material. When the Bill is on the statute book, as I trust it will be, there will be more cause to do this because there will be yet another Act which bears upon the matter. It would be welcome if all the legislation were put together in one statute which could be consulted and understood more readily. However, that will be some time in the future.
My hon. Friend has explained with eloquence the purpose and the intention of the Bill, and if it meets the convenience of the House I shall in a moment explain how the Bill is constructed. I shall make a few comments about the main proposal on bogus cinema clubs, but it would be appropriate first to say a few words by way of general background about the Government's view on legislation on this matter.
The House will recall the debate last June on the report of the Williams committee on obscenity and film censorship. During the debate I tried to explain that the Government accepted that there was a great deal of dissatisfaction about the present legislation on obscenity. There is no doubt about that; the Williams committee described it as a mess. This is perhaps the one point that unites us all. However, the Government did not consider that there was sufficient agreement to enable Parliament to proceed with comprehensive reform of this whole area of law.
I said, when speaking on the committee's recommendations on film censorship—the right hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) confirmed that this was also the Opposition's view—that we accepted unreservedly the need for a film censorship system. Unlike the committee, we did not feel that the case had been made for the replacement of the British Board of Film Censors by the new statutory board. I noted with interest and encouragement the right hon. Lady's view that she believed that the board represented today the best means of providing censorship. The Government did not feel that the committee made out its case for the replacement of the British Board of Film Censors by a new statutory board.
I also made it clear that the Government saw considerable value in retaining the power of local communities to decide what should be shown in their cinemas. We hold strongly to the belief in the value of giving this jurisdiction to local communities because locally elected councillors ought to be, and are, best able to understand and apply the opinions and feelings of the people in their community. We believe that as a general rule it is better that they should have the say-so in these 1232 matters than that central Government should try to do that for them. Central Government is remote and less likely to get it right. If local government means anything, it must mean the right to take such action and to exercise such discretion in its locality.
§ Mr. Charles Irving (Cheltenham)
As a local councillor, I have to take part in the decisions to which my hon. and learned Friend referred. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us the definition of depravity and corruption. If a burden of censorship is being placed upon anybody, the Government must be able to give a line of direction which is absolutely clear. What might deprave and corrupt the Minister could have a different effect on somebody else.
§ Mr. Irving
I am incorruptible. I support the Bill, but the Minister must have the full responsibility of telling the House the definition of depravity and corruption. I was disappointed that the right hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) did not give us the benefit of her clear-cut views on what she thinks is depraved and corrupt.
§ Mr McElhone
I raised this point with my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench. I support the call of the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) for guidelines. The Minister must examine this seriously. I was greatly embarrassed, as were many of my colleagues, when attending a local authority function to find that several councillors showed a wide disparity of views, and there were no guidelines.
I understand the difficulty for the Minister and the Home Office, which is responsible in London for the police force. However, unless the Home Office gives a lead, the police will not act in these matters. That is so in the whole country. Will the Minister assure the House, and those who support the content of the Bill, that chief constables will be made more aware of the strong feelings of the House in this matter? The Home Secretary must urge some action where the principles that we are trying to maintain have been abused so often and for so long.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I am grateful for both those interventions. They highlight much of the difficulty surrounding this area of the law. I shall deal with both of them, but I say by way of preface that the Bill deals with a loophole in the existing licensing system, which gives a jurisdiction to local authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham has identified a wide loophole which allows bogus clubs to get around the requirement to be licensed, and the Bill seeks to put that right.
I was saying that I thought it right to retain the local jurisdiction to license, for the reason that I sought to give, and then my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) said, rightly, that it was very difficult for local authorities to decide what was meant by "corrupt and deprave"—in other words, to apply the language of the obsecenity Acts.
I agree with that, and all of us with experience of these cases in the courts know the difficulty that this language presents. I have no doubt that that is one reason why the Williams committee described the law as "a mess".
I shall not venture to define those slightly antique English words. There is no doubt that they are difficult words, and my hon. Friend has put his finger on the difficulty presented by our present obscenity laws.
1233 A few moments ago, I said, as I did in our debate last year, that the Government did not believe that there was sufficient agreement in the House, let alone elsewhere, about where the line should be drawn at which it could be said that any material or activity was criminal for us sensibly to be able to embark upon general legislation. However, it is almost invariable for local authorities, when exercising their powers under the Cinematograph Acts, to impose a condition on a licence that no film will be licensed that does not have the certificate of the British Board of Film Censors. They are happy for the board to do it for them, and they are content so long as the board has given its approval to a film. That is the extent to which local authorities exercise their censorship powers. In practice, that is how it works, although local authorities have power to impose their own conditions which they exercise on occasion.
The BBFC will not grant a certificate in respect of a film which it thinks would be caught by the Obscene Publications Act 1959. Subject to that, it will also take various general considerations into account and, since we are exploring this aspect, it may be helpful if I say a word about it now.
The board will have in mind what is likely to be generally acceptable to licensing authorities throughout the country. In deciding into what category it should put a film, it applies various criteria. It is for the board to justify the criteria which it applies and clearly it will be influenced heavily, for example, by the extent to which and the manner in which a film deals with such matters as sex and violence. The board's reaction will vary according to circumstances, but it is wrong to suggest that its judgment is not based on a set of consistent principles which take local feelings into account.
I suggested in last year's debate that, following the example set by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove, the most hopeful way forward in the short term lay not in trying to embark on a general Bill bringing up to date or replacing the Obscene Publications Acts, but by taking a step by step approach. I thought that it lay in limited areas, where there was greater agreement about what should be done. I had in mind the reform of legislation to deal with the abuse represented by bogus commercial cinema clubs. That being so, it will be clear that I welcome this Bill.
§ Mr. Ray Powell
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman, because he is developing an extremely interesting argument. However, he referred to obscene publications, and the debate generally has been about how the Bill will affect them.
Earlier this week, Mr. Speaker ruled upon the use of a certain word which had been uttered in the previous day's debate. His ruling was that the word was unparliamentary. What is there in the Bill to ensure that obscene words are not used in cinemas, on tapes or, for that matter, on television? In my view, that is the problem that we have to tackle, and it might be a good idea if we found a way of legislating for the use of parliamentary language in such matters. If we can get over that difficulty in the Bill, in all probability we shall be able to tackle other problems which confront us.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I have great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's view. However, matters of broadcasting, whether on radio or on television, are for the broadcasting authorities—either the governors of the BBC or the 1234 IBA—and Parliament has laid down broad categories of consideration for them to apply. I am afraid that outside the scope of the Bill and this debate to go into that matter in more detail. However, I understand the feeling behind the hon. Gentleman's intervention.
Lying at the heart of the Bill is the bogus cinema club. The principal purpose of the Bill is to close a loophole in the Cinematograph Act 1952 which has enabled so-called cinema clubs to avoid the requirements of the 1909 and 1952 Acts applying to other commercial exhibitions.
Before I describe the loophole and how it has been exploited by these establishments, it may be helpful if I explain the general philosophy of the Cinematograph Acts. Broadly, the principle is that commercial exhibitions may be given only in premises which have been licensed by the local authority and which comply with fire safety regulations made by the Secretary of State under the 1909 Act. Non-commercial exhibitions do not require a licence and do not generally have to comply with the regulations. That is the watershed: commercial exhibitions have to be licensed; non-commercial exhibitions do not. It is the noncommercial limb of that formula which has been exploited.
It is almost invariably the practice of licensing authorities to attach a condition to a licence to the effect that only films which have been passed by the British Board of Film Censors or specifically approved by the licensing authority may be shown. But that does not prevent some authorities from taking a line of their own on certain films.
The two Acts provide a number of specific exemptions from licensing for non-commercial exhibitions. One of them, which is the loophole exploited by the commercial so-called clubs, is in respect of exhibitions to which the public are not admitted. It is contained in section 5 of the 1952 Act. The exemption was never intended to benefit commercial exhibitions, but was included with noncommercial bodies such as film societies in mind. The establishments in question have exploited this provision by masquerading as clubs and purporting to admit only club members. In practice, however, to all intents and purposes they are commercial public exhibitions. The procedures that are followed vary between establishments, but immediate entry can often be gained on payment of the admission charge, and the customer's signature on a piece of paper signifying his membership of the so-called club.
§ Mr. Mayhew
As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, that is the abuse. In other cases there may be only a negligible lapse of time before so-called membership is deemed to have been granted. Although the club façade may be flimsy in the extreme, prosecutions, as the GLC and the Metropolitan Police have found, can be difficult and time-consuming, and the outcome cannot confidently be relied upon.
§ Mr. McElhone
The Minister has put his finger on the problem. By getting the customer to sign a bogus membership form on the doorstep and pay the membership fee, the club keeps within the law. But we know that the club is bogus. Therefore, as a former chairman of a licensing court in Glasgow, dealing mostly with public house and hotel licences I suggest that licences should be reviewed annually. In my part of the world when a publican is found guilty of drunken driving, even well 1235 outside the area where his premises are, when his name comes forward for renewal of his licence the offence is reported by the chief constable. Including the annual review of licences in the Bill will give local people an opportunity to raise objections.
The Minister did not answer my second point. As the Minister of State, Home Office, and responsible for the police in London, will he assure the House that he will be pressing the police to act? Legislation which is already on the statute book is not being used. The police are unwilling to act because of the frustration that they experience in obtaining convictions. But that should not stop them from trying.
§ Mr. Ray Powell
As an eminent lawyer, is the Minister satisfied that the Bill will close the loophole and stop bogus clubs from operating?
§ Mr. Mayhew
I shall first deal with the two interventions, or I shall forget the points raised.
The hon. Member for Queen's Park referred to annual licensing. The present licensing scheme provides for annual renewal of licences, and that is also the intention of the Bill. On the question of guidance to the Metropolitan Police, I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
I do not accept that the Metropolitan Police are reluctant to venture into this field, but one must acknowledge that the law is unsatisfactory, for reasons that we have agreed. It is proper for the police to initiate a prosecution only when they are confident—or as confident as one can be in this difficult field—that a conviction will result. Although the club facade may be flimsy, prosecutions are difficult and the outcome is seldom predictable.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I should prefer not to give way, as I know that one of my hon. Friends wishes to speak.
§ Mr. Powell
I thank the Minister. This is an important point. The Minister referred to the commercial aspect. The difficulty is that groups of people can hire video tapes at £1 per day for ordinary tapes, £2 per day for soft porn and £5 per day for hard porn. I have never been able to distinguish between soft and hard porn unless it has something to do with sex. Nevertheless, groups which hire films can charge each person to view the tape in a hall or anywhere else. While we are talking about commercialism and examining the law to prevent such abuse, we must remember the difficulties that magistrates and licensing authorities will have in implementing the law.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am happy to say that my hon. Friend had the foresight not only to acknowledge the difficulty and problem to which the hon. Gentleman refers but to deal with it in his Bill. I shall explain later how the Bill catches that type of video exhibition.
The practical consequences of the clubs' circumvention of present legislation, to which I have already referred, are worrying and need to be described in more detail. Unlicensed exhibitions are often given in premises which 1236 leave a great deal to be desired in terms of fire safety. I should greatly fear for the lives of customers if a fire broke out in some of the premises in Soho, for example.
The moral welfare of those who attend such exhibitions is a more problematical question, on which views differ profoundly. Some hon. Members might take the view that little harm is done if premises afford adults the chance to see sexually explicit or violent material of a kind that would not even be given an X certificate by the British Board of Film Censors. However, as the Williams committee said in paragraph 12.35 of its report, the problem is thatthere is a total lack of control on the nature of the films shown and the audiences admitted to see them.As a result, highly objectionable material can be and is shown in such establishments.
For example, I understand from the British Board of Film Censors that it was recently asked to consider three films, all of which had been shown extensively on the club circuit. They all dealt with the subject of rape in a way which could do no other than encourage the view that women wish to be raped and are, indeed, grateful for the experience. I do not claim that material of that type is the staple fare of clubs. My impression is that the majority of the material shown is concerned with consenting sexual activity between heterosexuals or homosexuals. The present lack of controls means that much more sinister material can be shown. Because of the way in which the situation is developing, moreover, the path is clear for even more extreme material to be produced and shown than is available now.
I return to the basic point of principle. If, as was clearly the intention of Parliament, the Cinematograph Acts are to apply to commercial exhibitions, it is plainly absurd to allow that intention to be frustrated by exhibitions which are virtually indistinguishable from other commercial exhibitions. That is what the Bill's promoter spotted and is dealing with.
The means adopted in clause 2 for remedying that unsatisfactory state is to qualify the licensing exemptions by a test of whether an exhibition has been promoted for private gain. This revives a proposal which appeared in the 1973 measure. A similar test is already applied in other areas—for example, in the Private Places of Entertainment (Licensing) Act 1967 and in the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963.
The effect would be that premises in which an exhibition is given and promoted for private gain, whether it is a video tape or film and whether it is shown in a village holl, a cinema or wherever, would require a licence from the local cinema licensing authority. Safety standards would also have to be complied with. I suggest that that test is to be preferred to one which relies solely on defining what constitutes a club, if only because experience shows how easily such definitions can be eroded, even if it were possible to distinguish satisfactorily in theory between genuine members' clubs and the more commercial variety.
I emphasise that the Bill's proposals will not bear at all upon bona fide film societies or other non-commercial organisations.
Clause 1, in conjunction with schedule 1(1), extends the Cinematograph Acts so that they apply, subject to certain exceptions, to all exhibitions of moving pictures produced by any means. The principal purpose of the clause is to overcome the difficulty that it is uncertain whether the present law applies to some exhibitions using video 1237 equipment. It is obvioulsy right that all exhibitions should be treated on the same footing, whether given by film projection equipment or videos. That deals with the point raised by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell).
Clause 2 introduces the "promoted for private gain" test. That test will qualify the exemptions from licensing conferred by the 1909 and 1952 Acts. For example, it will no longer be sufficient for an exemption that the public is not admitted to an exhibition. It will turn on whether the exhibition is promoted for private gain. As an aid to enforcement, clause 2(2) creates a rebuttable presumption that certain exhibitions are so promoted.
Clause 3 and 4 take the opportunity to make some minor, but useful reforms in respect of applications for licences and appeals against decisions of the licensing authority.
Clause 5 provides for enforcement powers. My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd) and I have noted what has been said about the maximum fine. It should be remembered that the fine is not the only means by which the will of Parliament can be enforced. A fine relates to a proven breach. If a further breach follows, a further fine may be imposed. However, that is not the end of the matter. If the licensing authority finds that a cinema is operating without a licence and in breach of the law and it obtains a conviction and a fine is imposed, it can go to the High Court or county court if the cinema continues to operate without a licence and quickly obtain an injunction forbidding that. If the High. Court is defied, it will enforce its own order, if necessary by imprisonment.
§ Mr. Mayhew
If the licence condition has been broken, it could be revoked. Disqualification might be another practical way of dealing with the situation. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham will consider that suggestion—
§ Mr. Greenwayrose—
§ Mr. Mayhew
I shall be happy to answer questions, but I am worried that there may not be enough time for other hon. Members to speak. I have been fairly generous and have given way before, but I hope that my hon. Friend will allow me to continue.
For the most part clause 5 revises the existing somewhat wider powers of entry and inspection in the 1909 Act, but adds in subsection (4) the power to receive and remove articles liable to forfeiture by a court on conviction. That power is confined to unlicensed premises used for an exhibition that requires a licence. The prospect that expensive projection or video equipment may be forfeited should be a considerable deterrent to those seeking to evade the cinema licensing arrangement. Forfeiture is a pretty powerful enforcement weapon.
Clause 6 replaces the present provisions in the 1909 Act concerning offences and penalties, and ensures that those persons who are responsible for offending exhibitions are liable. At present, only the owner of the apparatus and the occupier of the premises can be prosecuted. The clause increases the maximum penalty to £;1,000.
Clause 7 is a standard provision concerning offences by bodies corporate. Clauses 8, 9 and 10 deal with minor and 1238 technical matters. The Government believe that there is an overwhelming case for taking action to correct the anomalous position of bogus clubs. The loophole has been long recognised, and by none more readily than those such as the hon. Member for Queen's Park, who has had some experience of the police and licensing authorities. Those who have had such responsibilities have been aware of the problem for longer than others.
The 1973 Bill sought to close the loophole by adding—as proposed in clause 2—a test of promotion for private gain. The Williams committee made precisely the same proposal. It is worth recalling that in paragraph 12.35 the Williams report states:… the he club system means that, leaving aside the present criminal law, there is a total lack of control on the nature of the films shown and the audiences admitted to see them. Although many clubs show films which we would regard as acceptable for restricted viewing, this is not always the case. We were told that one sadistic sex film which we saw might have been shown in clubs"—I stress "in clubs"—in this country; our view was that the film would be turned down by any censorship system, however liberal, and we noted in our talks with the French film censor that the same and similar films are banned entirely in France despite the existence of a special category there for films which are pornographic or, indeed, incite to violence. There are a number of film clubs which specialise in oriental martial arts films which can be extremely violent and which are often required to be cut by the British Board of Film Censors even before being given an 'X' certificate. The admission of children to these clubs means that uncensored films containing the kind of material which would not be passed even for adult viewing in a public cinema, is being shown without any restriction at all on who may see it. We consider it desirable that the scope of the censorship system should be extended so as to impose some control on what at present is subject to none. There is a need both to draw the line at what is acceptable even for restricted audiences and to ensure that restrictions are properly observed.The committee had already commented on the danger represented by the avoidance of safety requirements.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham might well point to the mischief that results from avoidance of the cinema licensing arrangements by clubs. It is clear from last week's debate on the Government's proposals for controls over sex shops and sex cinemas that hon. Members are particularly concerned about material that encourages sexual violence. Whatever view one may have about the morality of pornography, sexual violence occasions particular anxiety. It must be extremely worrying that the type of sadistic material mentioned in the Williams report can be shown freely. The Government have no doubt that such premises should be subject to the same controls—covering safety as well as censorship—as are applied to other public commercial exhibitions.
I suspect that few will disagree with that conclusion. In last June's debate the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) spoke about the blatant abuse by such premises of the censorship system. The redefinition of "cinematograph exhibition" in order to ensure that video exhibitions are subject to the Acts is both sensible and timely. It is clear that most of the exhibitions in so-called "clubs" use video and it is right that they should not be able to evade controls simply because they use equipment that falls outside the scope of an Act originally drafted before the advent of such technology.
The Bill will also make a substantial contribution to effective enforcement of the legislation as a result of the provision that it makes for increased penalties and for forfeiture. From the consultations that the Home Office 1239 has carried out with interested organisations, I have no doubt that there will be a broad welcome for the reform and modernisation proposed in respect of offences, powers of entry and appeal.
It may be helpful to comment briefly on the Bill's relationship to the Bill intended to control sex shops. Indeed, the hon. Member for Halifax raised that point. When moving Government amendments to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill last week, my right hon. Friend the Minister said that the Government would wish to reconsider the inclusion of cinemas in that scheme in the light of this Bill. The House will appreciate the the sex cinema referred to in the former Bill is largely, or perhaps wholly, the bogus club that his Bill deals with.
If my hon. Friend's Bill succeeds in its objective, these premises will require a licence under the Cinematograph Act 1909. As that will enable the cinema licensing authorities to exercise control over the material that is exhibited, there will be no need to subject them to further licensing arrangements. The Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill accordingly provides for automatic exemption for premises licensed under the 1909 Act. The question that obviously arises is whether there is any need to refer to cinemas in that Bill. We shall be considering that question in the light of the progress that we hope will be made with my hon. Friend's Bill.
I shall conclude what I fear has been too long a speech—[HON. MEMBERS: "No".] I think that it is helpful on these occasions, when we are not subjected to the party pressures of the rest of the week, to take our time. I reaffirm the Government's belief that my hon. Friend's Bill is a thoroughly worthwhile measure which deserves strong support. I commend it to the House. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall continue to offer him all possible assistance in its passage.
§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
I found the Minister's remarks interesting. They covered a wide area and were informative. I congratulate the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd) on introducing the Bill and I shall give it my support. The difficulty is that the Bill does not go far enough. I should like the British Board of Film Censors to impose far more restrictions on what it allows to be shown to the general public. I should like the Bill to include provisions to take account of the lack of restriction on what the television authorities are allowed to display throughout the nation.
Whenever possible I view television with my granddaughter during weekends. She is 4 years of age. During the afternoon and early evening we see films that I believe are not even shown in the bogus clubs that we are trying to restrict. I urge the Government to impose some restrictions and to put some pressure on the British Board of Film Censors and on some of the administrators of ITV and BBC, especially those of BBC2, who allow that channel to show foreign films at eight o'clock and nine o'clock in the evening, especially on a Saturday evening, when some young children are viewing.
Young children have watched that type of film and have been corrupted by what they have heard and seen. Mr. Speaker's ruling on a four letter word is important because words of that description are used constantly on television. Teachers tell me that they cannot understand why some 1240 children who have been brought up in God-fearing homes in Wales and who regularly attend chapel or church are using regularly such words as Mr. Speaker has banned us from using in this place.
If we are to introduce measures of this type, it is important to ensure that we direct our attention to the broadcasting of television programmes. That is why I should like a further interpretation of clause 1, which includes a reference to "certain, television programmes". Am I to understand that the clause will cover television programmes, films that are shown on television and the films that are shown at clubs in Soho and elsewhere that we are trying to regulate? I hope that we shall ensure that television films will be subject to more scrutiny and to certain restrictions.
§ Mr. Greenway
What the hon. Gentleman is saying is central to the Bill and to the upbringing of children. His remarks apply to children throughout the country and not only to those in Wales. We are in danger of placing in the Bill the dual standards that currently apply. We must use the Bill to end those dual standards.
§ Mr. Powell
I agree. I wonder sometimes whether we are doing the right thing by introducing licensing for certain clubs. Those who wish to view porn can go to the clubs. If they are free to do so, we can ban the pornographic material that is shown on television and which is corrupting children, young people and adults, the majority of whom have no desire to watch such material. However, they switch on the television and on occasions they do not expect to see that which appears on the screen. Some programmes appear to be innocent until a theme is developed and pornographic material and sexual indulgences are openly displayed.
§ Mr. Torney
Does my hon. Friend know whether some of the clubs, or bogus clubs, allow children to see the films that they are displaying? Secondly, what effect does he think the bogus clubs in Soho have on children who are walking along the street, observing some of the dreadful pictures that are in the windows of numerous clubs and witnessing the touting that takes place outside the clubs to persuade people to go inside?
§ Mr. Powell
I am well aware of the effect that the displays and the touting have on children. I should like further restrictions to be imposed. We have longer to wait before we can judge whether the legislation that has been put on the statute book in recent months is having a positive effect, whether it can be developed and whether further restrictions should be imposed. Some of the clubs tout for custom, and if children happen to be passing when that is going on they will be involved in what is on display.
I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) will intervene as the representative of the Social Democratic Party, which claims that it has made up its mind on one aspect of the Bill. When we debated a major issue on Monday it failed to make up its mind. It is encouraging that it has made up its mind on this issue.
§ Mr. K. Harvey Proctor (Basildon)
Surely the hon. Gentleman should be grateful that a representative of the SDP is present. When the New Towns Bill completed all its stages on two successive days no member of the SDP or the Liberal Party was present. However, that is typical and today is the exception.
§ Mr. Powell
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point and I am glad that he made it. It is time that we recorded, either on the Floor of the House or outside, the attendances and the participation of the party that has been formed by political misfits within the past 12 months.
§ Mr. Edward Lyons
The fact that the hon. Gentleman has gone out of his way to attack the SDP, and has been joined in that by the Conservative Right-wing Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor), shows the alarm that they feel about the emergence of the SDP. It also shows the tacit alliance between the Labour and Conservative Parties. The British public will notice that both parties are more frightened of the SDP than they are of each other.
§ Mr. Powell
I am not at all alarmed by the SDP—indeed, no hon. Member is. During the past 12 months the media have tried to encourage a media party, but that does not mean that hon. Members should in any way be alarmed. I am alarmed by the hypocrisy that attaches to hon. Members of the SDP. I am glad that I am not a member of it. I would never consider becoming a member—
§ Mr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am concerned by the comments of the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons), who is representing the SDP. The Opposition can give their own opinion, but I object to his use of the term "a load of lies".
§ Mr. Edward Lyons
On a point or order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) attributed remarks to me that I did not make. Indeed, I made no remarks resembling those of which he has accused me. I never used the word "lies". He must have been dreaming.
§ Mr. Charles Irving
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would you advise me of the relevance of recent interventions to the debate?
§ Mr. Powell
Perhaps the SDP now means the Sexual Democratic Party—or perhaps it has nothing to do with sex. I am sorry that we are taking time away from the debate. I am hoping to participate in a later debate that directly concerns my trade union.
Most of my remarks have been covered adequately by the hon. Member for Fareham and the Minister. History shows the development of the portrayal of sex and violence in childhood through such shows as Punch and Judy, stories such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and many nursery rhymes. Perhaps we should consider introducing a Bill to deal with that.
The hon. Member for Fareham and the Minister should seriously examine the question of who should interpret what is educational, what is pornographic and what should be viewed at clubs—whether bogus or otherwise. I and other hon. Members with similar feelings wish to give the Bill 100 per cent. support in its attempt to deal with a difficult problem.
§ Mr. K. Harvey Proctor (Basildon)
I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member 1242 for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd) on introducing a Bill which extends the 1909 and 1952 Acts. Much has happened during the 30 years since the House last considered the law on cinemas, especially with technological developments such as the video. Another development has been the emergence of bogus private clubs—one motivating force behind the introduction of this timely Bill.
I support the Bill and the principle of extending the licensing system of local authorities, district councils and the GLC to cover such clubs. To the best of his ability, my hon. Friend has tried to ensure that genuine organisations such as film clubs and societies—which are popular in my constituency—and charitable institutions can continue to operate untouched by the Bill. The Minister has reassured us that that protection will remain.
I do not want to go over the ground already well trodden by other hon. Members. I shall restrict myself to a few brief remarks. Clause 5(2) of the Bill relates to the admittance of the authorised officer of the fire authority to establishments. It states that he must give not less than 24 hours' notice of an intended visit. Is that period of notice taken from existing statutes on fire services, especially the Fire Services Act 1947?
One Friday night I went on night patrol with the Basildon fire brigade. Part of its normal duties is to visit cinemas and public places to ensure that they are meeting the fire regulations. It is an important part of the work of fire brigades.
§ Mr. Charles Irving
My hon. Friend has touched on a fundamental point. Does he agree that to define in Committee the words "depravity" and "corruption" it might be helpful if the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) and my hon. and learned Friend the Minister spent a few nights together visiting some of the clubs arid gaining first-hand experience of the problems. It is easy to talk about these matters in the Chamber, even if one has not visited such places. I rather suspect that neither the hon. Lady nor my hon. and learned Friend has done so. They might benefit from first-hand experience, and that might be helpful when we debate the Bill in Committee.
§ Mr. Proctor
I am sure that my hon. Friend has personal experience of such organisations and cinemas. I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) and my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will do what he suggests. My personal experience is rather limited to the scintillating activities of the Basildon fire brigade on night patrol—an experience that I very much enjoyed.
Is it right that the fire service should have to give these organisations 24 hours' notice before a visit is made? Although the police have immediate access, there may be a good reason why another emergency service has to give 24 hours' notice arising from views taken in the House about individual liberties. Perhaps my hon. Friend will deal with this in winding-up.
Secondly, I re-emphasise the points made by a number of hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), about the level of fines. The maximum fine has been increased front £200 under the 1952 Act to £1,000 on summary conviction under the Bill. Despite the Minister's comments about the future operations of the organisers of such establishments, that figure seems very low. Hon. Members may wish to make other suggestions. Had I spoken before the Minister, 1243 I should have asked whether there was any ceiling beyond which the House cannot go in relation to offences of this kind.
§ Mr. Proctor
It seems that there is no such ceiling. Given that the matter has not been reviewed since 1952, I find all the figures so far mentioned rather low. I believe that a maximum fine of £50,000 might be more appropriate in that it might deter people from setting up such organisations in the first place. I should be interested to hear my hon. Friend's comments on the criteria for proposing a maximum fine of £1,000 on summary conviction.
Finally, I refer to the position of Northern Ireland. The 1909 Act refers to "Ireland"—not surprisingly, as it was then part of the United Kingdom—and clearly stated that its provisions extended to Ireland, subject to a number of modifications set out in section 9. The 1952 Act made it clear that its provisions did not extend to Northern Ireland. At that time, Stormont was in full flood. Now, without Stormont and a different system for the government of Northern Ireland, tucked away towards the end of many Bills and orders we find a provision to the effect that the measure does not extend to Northern Ireland. Can my hon. Friend explain why clause 10(4) is included in the Bill, what is the law on these matters in Northern Ireland and why it was thought appropriate to exclude Northern Ireland from the provisions of the Bill?
Having made those three detailed points, I reiterate my support for the Bill and the manner of its presentation by my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham.
§ 12.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, West)
I join the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor) in paying tribute to his hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd) who in so ably introducing the Bill has done a service to the House and the State.
It is absolutely clear that many cinema clubs are bogus and are virtually open to the public. What goes on inside is an escape from the rules that apply to ordinary commercial cinemas and that loophole must be closed. Perhaps the worst occurrence is the constant denigration of women and the attempt to portray them as objects of service. When society is witnessing the burgeoning recognition of the dignity of women, it is entirely wrong that there are places where the suggestion is constantly reiterated that women are nothing, can be assaulted at will and are merely sex objects.
Such film clubs cater for sexual and sado-masochistic fantasies and sell the idea that it is pleasurable to inflict pain or humiliation in a sexual context. If local authorities insist that the licensing of such clubs is subject to the condition that the films shown must be passed by the British Board of Film Censors there will be a marked reduction in the type of hard pornography that is now spreading rapidly.
Another anxiety is that those who constantly see rape depicted as a normal and acceptable method of obtaining sexual pleasure and conveyed in a tone that implies that women enjoy it may be influenced to commit rape, thereby pushing up the crime figures for that offence when we should be struggling to ensure that they are reduced.
1244 The maximum fine of £1,000 for contravention of the Bill's provisions is inadequate, because the courts seldom impose the maximum sentence afforded by statute. There are very long sentences for offences such as larceny, but a court seldom imposes a maximum sentence for this type of offence. A maximum sentence gives a court a guideline as to how society regards the offence. If the maximum is £1,000, the average penalty is likely to be between £ 200 and £300. It will be nowhere near £1,000 for a first or even a second offence under the Bill when it becomes law. Therefore, there is a case for raising the maximum fine to a more substantial figure, well above £ 1,000.
I entirely agree with the view put forward by the spokesman for the official Opposition that these are not circumstances in which one should seek to impose custodial sentences. Where people are seeking to exploit depraved tastes for gain, the best way to strike at them is by making the gain a loss, and to increase the financial penalty. As a back-up to that, the licence can be withdrawn, or not renewed, in order to ensure that the film shows about which complaint has been made cannot continue.
It would be absurd to push more people into our overcrowded prisons for acting in the pursuit of greed, when they can be dealt with by the infliction of heavy financial penalties upon them or by the withdrawal of the licences by which they are making, or hope to make, their fortunes. I do not think that prison is an appropriate method of dealing with the problem.
The Minister said that a local authority can seek an injunction, but as this costs the local authority money there may be a certain reluctance to take that step. Therefore, the first deterrent should be a heavy fine, and the maximum fine should be a high one.
The Minister mentioned the possibility of consolidating the Bill when it becomes a statute. It would be fairly easy to achieve that aim by sending the Bill to the Joint Committee of Lords and Commons on the consolidation of statute law, whose job it is to do that kind of thing. As the Minister knows, there is machinery in the House to facilitate consolidation and to avoid the hurly-burly of ordinary legislation. Let us hope that this complex area can be brought together fairly quickly into one statute.
I congratulate the Minister and the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) on their helpful contributions to the debate. The House of Commons is performing a very useful function today. There is all-party agreement on the measure. Let us hope that we shall be able to omit party politics from many other measures in the future, to the common advantage of the people of Britain.
§ Mr. McElhone
I should like to intervene, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to ask for guidance from the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons), who was formerly a member of my party. He has drifted a little to the Left or the Right. One always hopes that the prodigal will return. As he sits as a recorder, presumably he passes judgment from time to time on cases involving matters such as we have been discussing this morning. Therefore, he is in a unique position to interpret the law. I hope that I am not embarrassing him by saying that.
I did not get the answer that I wanted from the Minister, although I think he went as far as he could at this stage to be helpful to the House. I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West will at least reconsider his view on prison sentences. In the Humphreys case—the 1245 scandal involving pornographic material and shops—the bribes to police officers were in the region of £50,000 to £60,000. The scandal nearly destroyed the Metropolitan Police. Surely the fine of £1,000 for which provision is made in the Bill is grossly inadequate for dealing with the type of operator that we have in mind.
It is not sufficient to provide for the revocation of a licence, because a licence can be transferred to someone else and the former operator can continue to share the profits of the terrible business in which he was engaged. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that prison sentences for second and subsequent offences would be the only way to deter these unscrupulous and evil operators?
§ Mr. Lyons
We can consider in Committee whether to introduce the possibility of prison for second and subsequent offences. The object of the Bill is to bring the clubs into line with the general commercial cinema and to impose fines for specific matters. If there is bribery or corruption and conspiracy, there are laws to deal with that. What the hon. Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone) has in mind is beyond the scope of the Bill.
The definition of depravity that has been canvassed is also beyond the scope of the Bill. This is a licensing Bill and if it is properly used local authorities will have an easy task if they insert in a licence that they grant a simple provision stating that any film shown has to be licensed by the British Board of Film Censors. That will be the end of their obligations, apart from an occasional check that the provision is being complied with. It will be for the British Board of Film Censors to decide what is depraved or what is not fit for viewing in such clubs. If the local authorities handle the matter sensibly, it will not be a matter for them to worry about.
One has to bear in mind that the prisons are grossly overcrowded and that we must have places in them for people who commit serious offences of violence or who cannot be released on society. Therefore, we must keep out of prison all those who can be punished adequately in some other manner because, at the moment, with three to a cell, the position in prisons is desperate.
§ Mr. Ray Powell
Would the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons), bearing in mind his position as a circuit judge, suggest to the Government that they should employ some of the 4 million unemployed to build new prison accommodation? Is it beyond the wit of the Government to try to provide facilities to accommodate offenders instead of trying to change and modify laws that we believe are right and necessary and should be applied to the whole population?
§ Mr. Lyons
I favour an increased building programme that helps to replace the old Victorian prisons that are more than 100 years old, but I would not favour a prison building programme designed simply to put into prison people who can be dealt with more effectively in other ways. That is not a sensible approach to penal policy or to offenders because the prisons are schools where prisoners learn to commit further crimes. They become more hardened and lose all self-respect. If it is possible to deal with a person adequately outside prison, that should be done.
§ Mr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)
You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I raised a point of order 1246 earlier against the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons). It was a genuine misunderstanding. I have spoken to the hon. and learned Gentleman privately, I have apologised and in his usual gracious way he has accepted that apology. As a matter of honour, I feel that that should be placed on the record. The House would expect that of me. I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman.
I echo the sentiments expressed across the Chamber during the debate. We have seen the House at its best. Many matters are swept aside in the general battle to pass legislation, and Private Members' Bills allow hon. Members to pick up those matters, to reflect the experience and support of the population at large and to debate the issues responsibly.
It would be remiss of me if I did not congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd). First, I congratulate him on his good fortune in the ballot. Secondly, I congratulate him on his wisdom in selecting this subject. Thirdly, I congratulate him on the way in which the Bill has been drafted and brought to the House today. I am sure that his constituents will be delighted at the way in which he has handled this delicate matter, and I hope that the general public will realise what a debt of gratitude we all owe him for bringing the matter to the House in a Private Member's Bill.
I do not pretend to be a legal expert. Indeed, I have little legal knowledge. However, the debate has gained from the wisdom of those who are well qualified in the legal profession. They have brought to the debate years of legal experience, and we are indebted to them. They say with one voice that the Bill is entering an arena where there are difficult legal complications. I accept their judgment. It is a tragedy when laws are created that people do not understand. If the Bill is to have the support of the general public, it must be simple and clearly understood.
In the House of Commons we have a unique habit, which we have exercised three times already this week, of creating legislation and slipping in the traditional clause which says—in this Bill—that a constable, or an authorised officer of the local authority, or a fire officer will implement and enforce certain sections of the legislation. In asking public servants or the police to undertake these tasks, we should make those tasks very clear and ensure that they do not over-exercise arty authority that is given to them, so that courts can give a clear decision on these delicate issues. I advocate supporting the police in a positive way by making legislation enforceable, so I hope that the promoter will say a word about the obstruction of a police officer, a local authority officer or a fire officer in the execution of their duties in connection with the Bill.
Today, we in the House of Commons are exercising a solemn, almost sacred, stewardship of the nation's affairs. We are indebted to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone), who made an important contribution to the debate. He said that he had been the chairman of a licensing authority. That is the sort of experience that is valuable in this debate. It is one of the great characteristics of the House that men come here from all backgrounds and make a contribution based on experience.
The hon. Gentleman outlined the problem of annual licensing and the refusal of licensing authorities to renew licences. Some agonising decisions have been taken in the area that I represent over matters related to various films 1247 and their exhibition. I do not believe that such decisions can be better placed than in the hands of people elected locally who know the area and the feelings of the people. If they make a mistake, it is well known—we have the wounds to prove it—that the electorate can be vicious in making clear what is wrong. It is a good aspect of the Bill that relationships at local level are one of the platforms on which the measure is built.
Within the confines of the Bill, hon. Members have the custody—I do not say this in a pious sense—of an important moral issue. Hon. Members have not shrunk from the challenge of that moral issue. I take the issue a stage further. I say, with humility, that we, as at least nominally a Christian country, should have a set of moral values. I feel often that those values are trodden underfoot. However, there comes a time in one's public life and one's political career when one has to stand up and be counted. I am prepared to stand up and be counted. Hon. Members have a moral responsibility, especially to young people. We have a responsibility to safeguard young people who could be innocently drawn into some of the establishments covered by the Bill.
This is an occasion when I confess that I speak with little knowledge. I have never been to one of these establishments. They do not attract me. I know, through working in London, that I have been stopped by people who have offered me a membership card to join a club for 24 hours. I wonder what temptation is placed before young people when that happens. Hon. Members have not minced words. They have stated loud and clear that many of these clubs are bogus. There is no doubt about that. I am a member of a film society in the area that I represent. Some fine films, including a number of wonderful educational value, have been shown. I would hate to think that the film society of which I am a member would be classified with some of those discussed today.
I said that I was concerned about the obstruction of police officers, local authority officers or fire officers in the execution of their duties. I am also concerned about the application for a warrant. A moral issue and the question of criminal law are concerned. We have had some tragedies due to fires in places of public entertainment. It is absurd that a fire officer has to obtain a warrant or give 24 hours' notice so that he can go back and carry out an inspection of the fire safety equipment. Such officers should have the right of entry so that they can detect any offences against the fire regulations.
If we are to have licensing, I plead with the promoter of the Bill that we have equality of licensing for traditional licensed premises such as public houses. Singing, gaming or dancing licenses must conform so that no anomaly is created by the inclusion of the clubs.
In the last 10 days, the value of tourism as an industry has been emphasised in the House. We have a responsibility within the confines of the Bill to put forward a good impression of this country to tourists. In the metropolitan area there are many great attractions in the arts, which we should promote, rather than the tourist industry giving the impression that our country is saturated with bogus film clubs showing offensive films.
The House is indebted to the wisdom of the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West, who has just given a wonderful address on sentencing. There is no doubt that people who are in this type of entertainment industry are 1248 not in it to give a social service. They are in it for hard cash and profit against an immoral background. In the days ahead—perhaps not now—the House of Commons will look back and reflect on the judgment given by the Speaker of the House about a certain four-letter word used by an hon. Member. We will say that a standard was set in the House. As has been said in Chamber, I feel strongly that when one pays to enter a place of public entertainment and hears some of the language that is used there, one has a right to express in the House the opinion that one has been grossly offended.
It has been brought to our attention that when our forefathers gathered in the Palace of Westminster to create the 1909 Act they had no concept that years on we would gather here to discuss this Bill, which revolves around a word called "video". In many respects the advent of video has brought about the problems highlighted by the promoter.
I am concerned about the obtaining of warrants to carry out inspections by authorised officers. I am concerned that in the Bill there is no offence of obstructing a police officer or other authorised officer in the execution of his duty, but I give a warm commendation that the promoter of the Bill has done the House and the country a great service. He has highlighted the loopholes and brought before us a list of offences and penalties which will no doubt be debated in Committee. In that spirit, I wish the Bill god-speed.
§ Mr. John Ryman (Blyth)
One of the difficulties about speaking relatively late in a debate on Friday is that much of the ground has already been covered. I do not want to go over it again. The Minister has helpfully told us the reaction of the Government to this wholly admirable Bill, which I welcome as much as any other hon. Member. I wish to deal with some points that have not yet been dealt with, and to draw them to the attention of both the Government and the promoter of the Bill.
I was glad to hear that the Government intend at some future, unspecified date to introduce comprehensive consolidating legislation to deal with this topic. I agree with those speakers who expressed the view that it is difficult, if not impossible, to deal with the problem in isolation.
I wish to deal with the reality of the situation, which is that there is an enormously thriving pornography industry in Britain, which is obviously harmful for adults and young persons. It is a multi-million pound industry that appears to be immune from any of the normal law enforcement agencies. Experience has shown that cases brought under the Obscene Publications Act and other statutes that result in prosecution and convictions have not affected the prosperity of this harmful business. What happens in nine cases out of 10 is that the person prosecuted is not the real proprietor of the business but a front man. He is prosecuted, convicted and fined a sum of money which is simply the debit side of the business and is a fraction of the turnover.
It is also clear from the experience of those who have dealings with this business that much of the harm comes from abroad as a large amount of pornographic material is imported, particularly from America and Scandinavia. It is then resold at huge profits in Britain. The Government may again have to look at the Customs and Excise Acts. A new one was recently put on the statute book to 1249 strengthen the power of Customs and Excise to restrict material being brought into the country from abroad, particularly from America and Scandinavia.
What worries me most is that the Bill envisages some form of official licensing through local authorities, or the British Board of Film Censors, or a combination of the two. Is there not then a danger, and has not experience shown there to be a danger, of creating respectability for institutions that are thoroughly harmful?
For example, when the betting and gaming legislation went through the House in 1960 and 1963 the then Home Secretary, Mr. Butler as he was then, could not possibly have envisaged that by introducing the Bills he would be creating a vast new industry. Today it controls multimillion pound public companies dealing in cash betting. By analogy, is there not the danger that if we introduce licensed cinemas of this kind, which have the stamp of respectability and are approved by local authorities, the House will be encouraging the growth of these institutions? The local authority will be formally acknowledging them to have a legal entity.
It disturbs me to think that by introducing legislation of this kind we may be putting the stamp of respectability on this type of cinema club while not grappling with the real problem, which is trying to prevent greedy, nasty men and women making a great deal more money by plying this trade.
I see nothing in the Bill that would restrict the morally offensive material being made available to the general population. Just as there is a proven link between pornography and organised crime and between gaming and organised crime, there is undoubtedly a link between the people running these cinemas and organised crime. The experience of police officers is that very often when they conduct a raid on premises of this kind they discover that those premises are immediately adjacent to or very near shops selling morally offensive literature. The idea is to entice customers into the cinema and, having created their interest at the cinema, to invite them to purchase morally offensive material such as obscene publications. I see nothing in the Bill to prevent that mischief occurring.
The omens are good for the enactment of the Bill. I am glad about that. However, there is a danger of the proposed legislation creating identifiable sources of films and, nearby those identifiable sources, facilities, made available no doubt by the people who engage in this activity, for the sale of obscene and pornographic material.
Closely connected is the Government's policy, which I understand is being enshrined in legislation that is passing through the House, of approving sex shops in a licensed form. That is a proposition that I find astonishing and thoroughly reprehensible.
§ Mr. Mayhew
The hon. Gentleman is applying less than his usual acumen to this topic when he says that the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill implies the Government's approval of sex shops in a licensed or any other form. He will realise on reflection that that Bill provides the only practical means whereby local authorities may prevent the spread or continuance of sex shops, provided that they can bring their decision within the very wide criteria laid down in the Bill. It is a means of control where none exists at the moment.
§ Mr. Ryman
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for correcting me if I stated the proposition 1250 inaccurately. As I understand the tenor of the Government's policy as enunciated during the proceedings on that Bill and in previous debates, the Government are contemplating seriously the legalisation of sex shops, and what the Minister just said confirmed that. Power will be given to legalise these establishments through the machinery envisaged in that Bill. I find that wholly reprehensible and deplorable. If I am wrong, I shall be delighted, because I am thoroughly opposed to the idea of having legalised sex shops.
§ Mr. Mayhew
As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State made clear, and as that Bill states in terms, nothing that is at present unlawful is made lawful. All that is done by the Bill is to give local authorities the power to say that a sex shop shall not be opened or that any sex shop which exists shall not have a licence It is a means of controlling the operation of sex shops, which is lawful at the moment. There is no means at present of controlling it.
§ Mr. Ryman
I am delighted to hear that, but nevertheless the danger exists. A local authority is to be able to control an existing sex shop by the creation of a licence. Experience has shown that in practice in an analogous case, involving licensed cash betting shops, for example, some other organisation buys the premises and uses that as a negotiating lever with the local authority to obtain a licence for some other premises. That is the danger.
I am delighted that the Government do not approve of such establishments, either expressly or by implication. I am grateful to the Minister for making the position crystal clear. I foresee the danger that the local authority's additional power will be used by sex shop operators to increase the number of sex shops or to turn other premises within the local authority's jurisdiction into sex shops. For example, they might apply for a licence for larger premises or premises in a prime shopping area when formerly they were in a back street.
Although the Government do not wish to encourage such activity positively, local authorities are to be given a power that they did not have before. Unscrupulous operators of sex shops and the pornographic trade could exploit such powers to their commercial advantage. The Minister must recognise that that is a distinct possibility. If the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill is enacted in its present form unscrupulous operators will use it to their own ends. Exactly the same happened when we licensed betting shops. The same happens in relation to gaming casinos. All sorts of commercial intrigue takes place to get round the licensing system that Parliament approved. The premises involved are dressed up in a more attractive guise so that a licence will be granted.
While I am on that topic, I draw attention to clause 4 of the Bill. It could create difficulties. It deals with the appeals procedure for applicants whose licences are revoked or refused. I appreciate that the Bill is based on other licensing legislation. I believe that once a court has decided that a licence should be cancelled in the case of a gaming licence, not renewed in the case of a betting office licence, or revoked in the case of a licence of the type in the Bill, the premises should be closed there and then. They should not be kept open pending an appeal to the Crown court, which might not take place for many months.
In practice, if a licence for an establishment is revoked in July, for example, the appeal does not take place until 1251 the following February or March. In the meantime the activity complained of, which led to the revocation of the licence, is continued at great profit. That is happening in all the pending gaming and casino cases. The Government and the promoter should consider whether an amendment might be appropriate to ensure that when a licence is revoked or refused the establishment is closed there and then.
Clause 4 deals with appeals to the Crown court. It should include a subsection stating that, pending the hearing of the appeal, the premises must be closed. A great deal of money is involved in such cases, because it is a multi-million pound industry. In the period between the hearing in the lower court and that in the higher court, millions and millions of pounds are made. In addition, the mischief continues. The company or individual whose licence has been revoked enters into an agreement with another organisation, turns up at the appeal hearing—if there is one—and tells the Crown court that it is now a completely different organisation from the one before the lower court, and that that is a good ground for allowing the appeal.
I hope that the Government will consider whether something can be done. Experience in other areas of licensing shows that sometimes an appeal is abandoned and a fresh application is made for a licence. The application is dressed up in the name of another company, which exudes respectability. In addition, different premises may be given, all in an attempt to persuade the local licensing authority that the original instigator of mischief no longer exists and that a new and respectable organisation is making the application. There have been recent examples of such activity in other areas of licensing.
I join other hon. Members in warmly congratulating the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd) and the Government on the spirit of the Bill. It obviously seeks to block a serious loophole in the law and to get round the devices that ingenious and rich organisations and individuals use. Such bodies have the best legal and financial advice at their disposal and they engage in a profitable and vicious trade that is harmful to the public. Therefore, I support the Bill. It represents a difficult topic for legislation. I hope that the Government will let us know when comprehensive and consolidating legislation will be introduced.
This Parliament has been conspicuous for the different legislation that has been accepted, primarily as a result of Private Members' Bills. Indeed, hon. Members have succeeded in placing on to the statute book controversial and difficult legislation on obscenity. It has always been difficult to do that and we should thoroughly congratulate the hon. Member for Fareham and the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) on piloting such difficult legislation through the House. The Government should also be given credit for allowing such measures time. I shall be interested to know how much time the Government will give to this Bill.
If the Government intend to introduce consolidating legislation fairly soon, I assume that that will affect the amount of time given to this Bill. I should like some idea of the timetable involved. Do the Government intend to give the Bill sufficient time to reach the statute book this Session? If so, does that mean that the Government do not 1252 intend to introduce consolidating legislation on obscenity in the forseeable future? The Government are encouraging the passage of piecemeal legislation while saying that they hope to introduce a consolidating measure in the not too distant future. I hope that the Minister will clarify the position.
§ Mr. Frank McElhone (Glasgow, Queen's Park)
I should be doing a disservice to the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd) if I were to say that his Bill merely closes a loophole. I think that I speak for all who have contributed to the debate when I say that we are discussing a principle. No doubt the hon. Gentleman was prompted to introduce the Bill as one step in restoring Britain's moral fibre. That is the absolute principle that concerns us all.
When I served in the previous Labour Government as an Under-Secretary of State for Scotland I was responsible for education, health and other matters. In serving as a Minister I felt that the Government had a moral responsibility as well as a legislative and administrative role. The people expect that of any Government.
For example, a little old lady might want to go to court to object to the use of the building next door to her home for the display of obscene material. The ordinary citizen finds it a frightening prospect to go into court. The little old lady will not be given legal aid in raising her objection and she will face the terrifying prospect of being challenged by counsel who appear on behalf of the dubious operators whose activities she finds objectionable.
In enlisting the general support of the public as represented by the Church, I set up a meeting of Church leaders. The meeting involved all the churches, including the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Anglicans, the Episcopalians and even representatives of the Church of Scotland. I presented them with the challenge and provided them with an office and secretariat.
I said to the Church representatives "You are not Government agents. I do not expect you to whitewash our activities or support them." Their remit was to restore the primacy of family life. That meant that they were critical partners in government. Before Bills arrived in the House of Commons I gave them the opportunity to consider them so that they would not find it necessary to send telegrams to the Government at a later stage.
That may happen as the Bill that is before us proceeds through the House. On Report or on Third Reading the hon. Member for Fareham may receive a host of telegrams from the churches declaring their support or their opposition. The churches tend to leave it until the last moment before expressing their views. Very often right hon. and hon. Members do not have the time to consult them. For example, Conservative Members will be committed to supporting the Government. They feel, no doubt, that they have a duty to do so. I wish to obviate any embarrassment to hon. Members by involving Church leaders. I am sorry that the practice that I followed in Scotland has not been copied in England.
I am aware that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have a long and distinguished record in the Methodist Church. In your other capacity you may take steps to encourage some action along the lines that I am suggesting. As I have said in more than one intervention, the enactment of another piece of legislation is no guarantee that we can bring an end to the insidious practices that concern us all. We shall not be able to do so until the will to take that action exists 1253 in Parliament, in the police forces and in the licensing authorities. It is for the police and the authorities to enforce the legislation that we enact, and patently that has not happened.
I do not wish to stray into partisan politics, but any social study of the past 40 years will reveal that the Government's predecessors in the Macmillan Government started the downward trend in family principles and standards by adopting the "You have never had it so good" principle. That edict set us on the downward path in respect of family life and practices. They more than anyone else have responsibility for what has taken place.
Will the Minister give a guarantee that the Home Secretary will act? I speak with a fair number of years' experience of local authorities and as the chairman of a magistrates panel. I know, for example, that many public house licensees in Glasgow abused their licenses by selling drink to 13 and 14-year-olds. Of course, such people can be charged, and they have to apply for their licences to be renewed. However, what often happens is that, shortly before he applies for the renewal, he transfers the licence into his wife's name. The application for a normal transfer of licence is heard—one among a number—there are no police objections and the application is granted. He escapes scot free, and his licence and business are secure. A number of licences are held in the names of wives because of the misdemeanours of the husbands. The same practice occurs in the establishments we are discussing. The Minister accepts that many phoney practices occur and there are many phoney memberships of clubs. It is hard to pin down. As the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Ryman) said, substantial money is involved.
There is nothing to stop someone transferring the licence to his wife. If the licence is queried, she pleads that she has to support her family. There is no police objection, and the husband and wife carry on the business and make the same profit.
It has been said that we can attack the issue from more than the police aspect—through, for example, fire regulations and environmental health requirements. However, I urge the Minister to ensure that police authorities act on the matter. If a doctor wishes to set up a practice in not the best of premises in a run-down area, before he can do so he has to provide a toilet for staff—which may be only one receptionist—a toilet for male patients and another for female patients. He must meet the environmental health regulations. Doctors find it difficult to obtain premises in areas of need because they cannot avoid the health regulations. I do not object to such standards being set, but they are not being applied to the establishments that we are discussing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) said that people purchase pornographic video tapes and show them for profit in halls and canteens. Surely the police could charge them for that. It must be against the law to show them for public exhibition without the authority of the person who originally produced the video. There are more ways of dealing with such evil practitioners than simply depending on local authorities or the board of censorship.
When I was a magistrate, it was part of my duties to visit cinemas, view films and make judgments. The Minister said that we should leave the matter to the good sense of local authorities. However, that duty is an onerous and complex burden on members of local authorities who 1254 do not have time to carry it out. It is a low priority duty for many councillors, which is usually relegated to a Saturday morning exercise.
The proposed legislation will not be effective unless the Government introduce a code of conduct—a set of guidelines—to help local authorities make their judgments. I know that it is difficult to set such guidelines, but we have said that about many other pieces of legislation. The Government have a responsibility to attempt to set guidelines. The Bill is limited in scope. The hon. Member for Fareham should try to close any loopholes when the Bill is debated in Committee.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) said, if we start to open up this legislation, we shall see many other anomalies. Perhaps the best piece of news from the Minister was that the Government are contemplating consolidation measures to cover this difficult subject. However, the Minister's reply was rather like the one that we received yesterday during the serious debate on the Third world, when we were told that the Government were moving towards the 0.7 per cent. target but they could not tell us when.
By the same token, I have tried to press the Minister to be more precise. I know that he is not in charge of the business of the House, but he can take back to the Leader of the House the strong feeling on both sides that consolidation measures are necessary and should be made in the lifetime of this Parliament. That is the commitment that we seek. The matter was rightly pressed by the hem Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury), another opportunity has been provided today by the hon. Member for Fareham and others may follow.
We are not merely looking for the removal of a loophole. If we are to consolidate this matter, for which it is difficult to legislate, and to do justice to the Bill, the Minister has an obligation to attempt, through the channels of the Cabinet sub-committees and talks with the Leader of the House, to introduce consultation measures within the lifetime of this Parliament. I shall gladly give way if the Minister will give that undertaking. I ask for no more than an attempt to do that. That would be a significant step and would encourage more such measures.
The difficulty with planning permissions is how to implement them. In my experience, where there is a rash of betting shops it is difficult for the person who wishes to object to a new betting shop to make his views known. Originally, there was no requirement for a public notice on the building to state that it was being converted for that purpose, and when such notices appeared one almost needed a Jodrell Bank telescope to read them. If the Bill is to be effective, one must bear in mind the difficulties. If a proposed conversion has to be advertised in the local press, the advocates of betting shop operators may consider that that means the Financial Times because six copies are sold in my constituency—in other words, they are sold "locally". Not many of my constituents rush to see a copy of the Financial Times to find out whether applications have been made to run premises showing indecent films. It is a disservice to ordinary men and women to make if difficult for them to understand arid operate the legislation. I hope that that point will be borne in mind by the Committee.
Unfortunately, many cinemas are closing down. Other empty buildings may also be used for showing indecent films. The difficulty in stopping that process is that the planning officer may tell a shady operator who wants to 1255 show such films that that is fine because no change of use is involved. The shady operator can obtain many closed-down cinemas and the necessary planning permission because he does not intend to change their use. Such applications can go through the planning committee easily, particularly if a large authority has many simple planning applications which go through in a rush and are not given serious study. We must watch that.
§ Mr. Ray Powell
Yesterday we listened to my hon. Friend's broad Scottish brogue on the Third world. It was very interesting and he developed a valid argument. He has referred to the closure of a number of cinemas. In my constituency and all over Wales a number of cinemas have closed. Will he agree that the British Board of Film Censors should seriously consider the type of material that it is licensing, so that the family outing to the cinema may continue? When one takes one's family out to see what could be called a good family film, one might find an X or AA certificated film—or a film that is pornographic or near pornographic—being advertised. That is why families are not prepared to go to cinemas today. That is one reason for my suggestion that cinemas should be closed.
§ Mr. McElhone
We are referring to cinemas in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore is right. I have four children, and it is a grave embarrassment to have to search for a cinema that is not showing an X-certificated film. The film industry has suffered badly over the last few years, but a great deal of blame must rest on its shoulders for not encouraging the type of family film that would have a big public if they were promoted. In the newspapers one sees one X-certificated film after another advertised. It is another example of the moral decadence in our society.
The House, as a legislative body has a responsibility to change that trend. I urge upon the promoter two further important points that, in my experience, will help. I urged this morning that when a person has been found guilty of a first offence he should be given a prison sentence for the second and subsequent offences. Those disgraceful operators who are destroying the lives of so many young people should at least know that there is a threat of prison sentences for second and subsequent offences.
§ Mr. Edward Lyons
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is no power to introuce any substantial new provisions in a consolidation Bill? It can contain only what is in the previous legislation. That possibility, therefore, is not open.
§ Mr. McElhone
I am most grateful to my legal colleague for advising me on that matter. As we heard a moment ago, there is difficulty in producing effective legislation. If it is the case—I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his intervention—that the Government in bringing forward this consolidated measure— —
§ Mr. Ray Powell
Is it not true to say that the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) cannot possibly be my hon. Friend's hon. and learned Friend, although he is giving legal advice? The hon. and learned Gentleman has left the party of which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone) is a member.
§ Mr. McElhone
One is very generous on a Friday. I do not wish to go into the pedigree of the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons). Apart from the fact that he has left us, he has a very honourable pedigree. His family has a close association with the Gorbals district in my constituency and perhaps that makes him somewhat better than a Welshman. We are here this morning to be helpful to family life in his country. Although the hon. and learned Gentleman has strayed a little from the fold—as I said earlier, one hopes for the prodigal—if we can convert him, I think I should go as far as possible. He made a very useful contribution to the debate, with his legal experience. As I said earlier in the debate, he sits as a judge in court. He may well be faced with judgments on this type of legislation. That is why we are grateful for his presence this morning.
How do we control the shrewd and shady operator? Anyone who studies the unfortunate episode of the Metropolitan Police, in the trial of Mr. Humphreys concerning pornographic material—
§ Mr. Ray Powell
My hon. Friend referred to the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) as a judge. Earlier, my hon. Friend referred to the hon. and learned Gentleman as a recorder. If he is a judge—we are talking of introducing a Bill which may be a legal weapon—would my hon. Friend suggest that the judgment of the hon. and learned Gentleman is suspect because he has gone into a party which is suspect throughout the country? In those circumstances, is his judgment likely tobe correct on these issues?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not go down that lane. We ought to get on with the debate on the Bill.
§ Mr. McElhone
We all have handicaps, and the hon. and learned Gentleman has assumed some more handicaps. I respect the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) but I take the guidance of the Chair.
I have great concern about the problem of establishing ownership of premises, and I should like the promoter to direct his attention to this matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Blyth also alluded to it.
In my constituency, we had a problem with the demolition of large numbers of very old tenement buildings, at great cost to the ratepayers. The property had been exploited for countless years by Rachman-type operators who had made vast profits. When they were faced with the cost of demolition they immediately switched ownership.
Legally, the people who had exploited the Gorbals slums for years were no longer liable to meet the legitimate costs of demolition because the local authority had ordered the property to be demolished for the reason that it was insanitary, unsafe and a risk to the public. The switch took place, and we had a model lodging housing house in my constituency. It was the greatest property-owning centre outside London. The down-and-outs who were living there were sleeping on vast rolls of paper. They were sleeping on top of more property than Charles Clore ever had. When the local authority tried to find out who owned this unsafe and insanitary building, in order to enforce repairs or proper standards, the local authority had to go to Joe Brown or James Smith in the Portugal Street model 1257 lodging house, where they found a great quantity of paper, which were the title deeds, on the edge of the hotplate. That was an abuse.
§ Mr. Torney
My hon. Friend may have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) mention alleged pornography on television. What is the feeling of my hon. Friend and what is the feeling on this point in Glasgow or in Scotland? Does my hon. Friend feel that the Minister should reply? My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore spoke after the Minister and asked the Minister a direct question.
§ Mr. McElhone
Without straining your generosity, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore are, in a sense, asking me to make pronouncements on matters which might be slightly out with the ambit of the Bill. I do not challenge the principle of what they say. Like me, they are here to help the hon. Member for Fareham who has not been in the House for long. The hon. Member is looking to those of us who have been here for a few years and have outside experience to ensure that his legislation is effective.
§ Mr. Ray Powell
The legislation proposed will license certain clubs and perhaps allow them to show certain types of film. We asked the Minister about licences afforded to the BBC and to ITV companies which portray on television—not to individual clubs or groups, but to the whole population—films that I, and most of the chapel and church goers in Wales, would suggest should not be shown nationwide on television.
§ Mr. McElhone
I do not dissent from that show of sincerity by my hon. Friend on behalf of his constituents and the people of Wales about the standard of films on television. We have all been embarrassed in front of our families when we have not been sure whether to leave the television set on or switch it off. It is a difficult experience for fathers and mothers to be faced with the type of pornography that is sometimes shown on television.
I have made representations to the IBA, without much success. Now that most ITV companies have had their franchises renewed or changed, we shall not see much change for the next eight years because the companies again have a licence to print money. The principle is not different from the principle behind the Bill, which is the restoration of standards of morality and the regeneration of the moral fibre of the country. The Bill is another step in that process, and we do not wish to see it suffer, in Committee or on Report, by becoming part of the legislative framework without being effective.
I turn to the subject of private gain which was raised by the Minister in connection with the 1952 Act. I am not an expert on that Act or on company legislation, but everyone knows what a £100 company can do and interpretation is important in relation to pornographic material shown in such establishments. The Minister did not help us on that. My worry is that the operation can go on, the films can be shown and vast profits can be made, but we may not be able to discover who owns the premises. That has always been the difficulty. My hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Ryman) knows far better than I that pinning down the operators— —
§ Mr. Blackburn
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has made an important point, on which 1258 I should like to question him. The hon. Gentleman says that the operation is for gain, and that we must decide who owns the club. The answer might be to say that the owner is the licensee. The hon. Gentleman, drawing on his own experience, spoke about the transfer of a licence for a public house. Is it possible that someone who holds a licence for one of these bogus cinemas might, on conviction, sell the property for a nominal fee and that the objectionable material might thus continue to be displayed?
§ Mr. McElhone
I am in something of a dilemma. My sympathy lies with my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth, who said that to license these establishments is to give them respectability. That is correct. On the other hand, which organisation will find out whether the club or organisation is bogus and whether it is showing films for private gain? Who judges the type of material that is shown? If I have to make a judgment—and it is the judgment of Solomon—perhaps I should have to fall back, as my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax said, on the British Board of Film Censors, or a similar body. However, my experience of that board's judgment of pornographic material is that: it leaves a lot to be desired. Moreover, I know that the Government are against further quangos. Nevertheless, a body of some sort is required., and it should not consist just of do-gooders.
The Government have shown a reluctance to act, and have opted out of their moral responsibilities. The matter is left to the ingenuity and energy of private Members. That is the difficulty that we are in. I hope that the Minister will give us an assurance of help, if not in this Bill, which I know that the Government support, at least in the consolidation measures. The Government came to power on a manifesto which promised support for the family. We have seen little evidence of that support. Mass unemployment and cuts of all kinds have reduced the status of the family. The Government have a moral obligation to help the hon. Member for Fareham and those of us who are anxious to put on the statute book a comprehensive Bill that will meet most of the objections about which we are protesting today.
It is difficult for any Member who is not a lawyer to bring forward a Bill. It is a hazardous operation. He needs both the overt and covert support of the Government. I know that the Government are not unhappy at giving covert support to Private Members' Bills, when it suits their purpose. I therefore ask the Minister to tell the House, before the Bill goes into Committee, how he can help us. I ask him to look at the planning aspect of cinemas or buildings converted to cinemas which show this type of material. If local authorities are to examine applications for such establishments, I hope that the Home Office will ensure, either in this Bill or in future legislation, 'that members of the public who wish to object to these obscene practices have a reasonable way of doing so. I do not mean a notice on the inside back page of the Financial Times. Any poster must be of a size that can easily be read. There is no difficulty. Many problems were supposed to exist but cigarette packets now carry a warning of the danger of smoking to health. The warning also appears on the hoardings. This is the help that is needed to ensure that the Bill is effective. It is essential, where there is a change of use of a building, that the ordinary citizen should have easy access to the courts to object. Before planning 1259 permission is granted, there should be an opportunity for residents whose children might see these displays to have a chance to object.
The question of private gain has not been resolved, despite the Minister's helpful comments. The hon. and learned Gentleman must introduce more precision into the Bill or into consolidation legislation. The network of £100 companies and companies registered in the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the Cayman Islands provide many ways of evading responsibility. There is need to define a club. A club could consist of four hon. Members. I understand the difficulties. These should not prevent the Government from meeting their obligation of defining a club for the purposes of police inspection. The police need access to inspect even a private club. I am glad that the Bill refers to this matter.
§ Mr. Blackburn
Does the hon. Gentleman, with his vast experience as chairman of a licensing authority, not agree that these clubs not only escape inspection and licensing but that they also escape the financial burden of taxation? Tragically, for that reason, they are a gold mine.
§ Mr. McElhone
I could not agree more. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's helpful intervention. There is legislation on the statute book concerning aspects of this problem. If the police were doing their job properly, there would be no need for this type of Bill. I do not wish to refer again to the troubles in the Metropolitan Police a few years ago. It was the criminal Humphreys who spilled the beans on the corruption in the Metropolitan Police. To the embarrassment of the Metropolitan Police, the new chief officer was appointed from Glasgow because there were some doubts then, as there are some doubts even now. The chief officer in Glasgow was brought down to be commissioner. That was a terrible and, I suppose, unfair indictment of the Metropolitan Police. I am positive that 99.9 per cent. of the Metropolitan Police are honest and upright in performing a difficult job.
No one supports more than myself the efforts of the police to uphold law and order. As a former member of a police committee and as someone who has to deal with the police in my constituency, I must say that such a problem is distasteful to the police. They are extremely reluctant to act on it. Action might be taken if Mr. McElhone goes to the police office and complains but not if a little lady complains. That is not an indictment of the police.
The Home Secretary and Ministers such as the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is responsible for the police there, must be persuaded, urged and encouraged to ensure that the legislation will become effective. This crime covers many different aspects. The hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West was against any more prison sentences and said that the police had a more important job to do in tackling crime.
Young people who are sent to borstal or prison are stimulated into criminal activities. We want to tackle crime and to deal with the problem before it arrives in the courts. We want to stop it at the source. Young people are being encouraged to go down a road that causes not -only criminal activity but the breakdown of many families in the community.
That is my plea to the Minister, who was helpful. Unless he urges the police to be more active against people 1260 showing pornographic material, they will get away with it. He owes it to the House and to the country as a member of the Government, who are responsible for the standards of operation of those establishments, to take action against those people.
§ Mr. Peter Lloyd
I beg leave of the House to address it again. I am grateful for the opportunity to make a few remarks in response to a valuable and heart-felt debate ranging beyond the reach of my Bill. I shall try to be as quick as I can as I for one should like my right hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Sir A. Maude) to have the opportunity to introduce his Bill.
I am pleased with the wide support that my Bill has received. I have noted the suggestions that have been made. I cannot comment on all of them, although they will be considered before Committee, but I shall deal with some.
Several hon. Members wondered whether the Bill would work. I understand their concern. Licensing has worked for the legitimate commercial cinema. There is no reason why it should not work for commercial cinemas that have been operating as private clubs, although they are clearly not private clubs. The important test is not whether they are clubs but whether they are run for gain. I take on board all the points that have been made, particularly by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone).
Clause 2 contains many tests that will help to ensure that a company that is operating for gain cannot conceal the fact. The most reassuring of those tests is that the court will presume that an organisation and an exhibition are run for gain unless that is rebutted by the defence.
The requirement for heavier penalties was also mentioned. I understand why. My hon. Friends the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) and Basildon (Mr. Proctor) and the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Ryman) made that point. I shall look at that again, but I felt that we should purse cases by means of summary prosecution, because that is the quickest and most effective way to act in these circumstances. It means that the penalties have to be more or less in line with the penalties for other offences that come before the courts under summary jurisdiction.
The hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) particularly asked that specific charities should be exempted. That will certainly be examined. In the Bill I tried to define the categories and the types of organisation that should be exempt. I am not sure whether it would be helpful to specify particular organisations such as churches. That could easily get us into difficulties, as it would not be beyond entrepreneurial ingenuity to suggest the creation of a new church, such as the church of the emancipated viewer, which could then claim all the rights and privileges of the Church of England or the Church of Rome.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and one or two other hon. Members mentioned the fire regulations. However, there is a right of entry to fire officers at any time when they believe that an exhibition is taking place or about to take place. The 24-hour provision applies only when it is clear that an exhibition is not taking place, and it therefore reasonable to extend the courtesy of a 24-hour notice.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon asked whether the Bill, if enacted, would extend to Northern 1261 Ireland, and if not why not. The operative law in Northern Ireland is based on the 1959 Act passed by the devolved Government in Stormont. It would not be appropriate to try to incorporate it into the Bill, although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland might think it appropriate to lay an Order in Council. That is the method under the present arrangements whereby the Bill could be extended into Northern Ireland if it is enacted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) suggested that there should be penalties for an officer obstructed in the proper pursuit of his duty to ensure that the licensing regulations were being complied with. In earlier statutes there is such an offence of obstruction. I believe that that is therefore taken care of, but I will check on that.
I was interested in the point made by the hon. Member for Blyth about the delays that there can be in appeals to Crown courts. He is right that if the delays are long it would be, in effect, setting aside the intention of the law. That is another matter which I will consider, and on which I shall want to reassure myself that another loophole will not be built in to enable clubs, organisations and cinemas to stay open when they should be closed.
Judging by the remarks, some hon. Members may have misunderstood what my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State said about consolidation. I understood him to mean that the consolidation that he looked forward to seeing in the identifiable future was a consolidation of the Cinematograph Acts of 1909 and 1952—I look to my hon. and learned Friend for confirmation— — —
§ Mr. Lloyd
—and my own Bill, should it pass into law. It is not a wide consolidation of the several Acts which deal with obscene publications and related matters.
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for sitting here all the morning and for his very helpful clarification of what I believe I am doing, to say nothing of his extremely useful suggestions about how my objectives may be achieved.
I take this opportunity to thank the hon. Member for Halifax for her support and helpful comments from the Opposition Front Bench. I shall not take up her argument that we need comprehensive change. Comprehensive change means a great deal of legislation and, as she said, legislation of this kind can produce very different results from those that one might intend, but I was pleased to hear the hon. Lady say that the law controlling the film industry and film exhibitions has to be based on quite different principles from those covering other areas of activity.
On that note of agreement, I reach the end of the list of matters raised in the debate that demanded immediate comment. I aril grateful to hon. Members for being here for the debate and for making very valuable comments which I shall bear in mind when the Bill reaches its Committee stage—assuming, of course, that it receives a Second Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).