HC Deb 24 January 1986 vol 90 cc556-619

Order for Second Reading read.

9.38 am
Mr. Churchill (Davyhulme)

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

It is clear from the volume of comment in the media, as well as the numerous representations received by many hon. Members, that there is considerable public concern at the level of violence and the increasing amount of obscene material transmitted by television into millions of homes, where such programmes will inevitably be watched by large numbers of children and young persons.

Violence on television was the subject of pronouncements by the Annan committee on broadcasting, which reported in March 1977, and of the White Paper on broadcasting issued in July 1978. Paragraph 103 of the White Paper said: The programme issue which has caused most concern to the public is the portrayal of violence on television and its effects. It went on to say: The effects of television programmes on viewers are of their nature difficult to determine. However, the Government is in no doubt that the only safe course is for the broadcasting authorities to assume undesirable effects unless convincing evidence to the contrary emerges. This means that the authorities must be cautious in broadcasting programmes, particularly programmes in which violence is portrayed, if these might have effects on susceptible people, especially young people and children. That of course, is the issue to which the Bill is addressed.

Furthermore, there is disquiet in those millions of families attempting to bring up young or teenage children with proper values so that they in turn may become responsible members of society. There is readily available a new brand of highly explicit sex magazines, sold all too often by local newsagents to which children go to buy their sweets, or at bookstalls where such magazines are thrust before young people.

In a recent publication entitled "Portrayal of Violence in Television Programmes", the BBC asked: Why is violence on television thought to be dangerous? It went on to answer that question and said: The research into the effect of this increased acquaintance with violent happenings suggest several dangers: (a) the possibility of imitation; (b) the danger of psychological damage, particularly to children or to immature or unbalanced adults; (c) the danger of shocking or nauseating to the extent of causing the viewer to misinterpret the intention of the whole programme or to switch off before the situation is resolved; and (d) the fear that exposure to constant scenes of violence may blunt the emotions and sensibilities of the viewer, so that he comes to accept violence as commonplace. It is the last suspected danger of desensitisation and erosion of inhibitions that seems to ask the most worrying question about the accusations highlighted by recent research.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

I am slightly surprised that the hon. Gentleman should introduce this Bill to deal with the problems that he has outlined. Constant violence on television troubles me and seems not to be outlawed by the Bill. The only provision is for vicious cruelty, and that would not outlaw repeated violence, fighting and killing in, for example, police programmes.

Mr. Churchill

I am obliged to the hon. Lady for raising that point. She should be aware of the primary test of obscenity contained in the Obscene Publications Act 1959. The tendency to deprave and corrupt has been held by the courts to deal with violence. It has dealt to great effect with violence in what are colloquially known as video nasties. That level of extreme violence is covered in the provisions of the Bill, which for the first time will bring television broadcasting within the scope of the Obscene Publications Act.

In addition, as the hon. Lady rightly points out, the Bill provides, in the additional test for obscenity, for vicious cruelty to be held to be obscene. I am the first to recognise that the list contained in clause 2 is far from perfect and susceptible to improvement. Should the House afford the Bill a Second Reading, I hope that in Committee hon. Members will improve on the language that I have set out in that list.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)

The hon. Gentleman has not understood clause 2. Desensitising is due, not to the individual horrific incident, but to the continual careless portrayal of casual violence, which will escape the Bill. The real obscenity is the continual careless soft porn of our daily lives. The hon. Gentleman does not understand one iota of what he is dealing with.

Mr. Churchill

I understand the concern that has been expressed, not only by the hon. Gentleman, but by millions of people, about the drip, drip effect of the portrayal of violence on television. It is my wish to seek to address that problem more effectively than I have done in the Bill, but that has eluded me. If, during the Committee stage, the hon. Gentleman is able to suggest language which effectively deals with that, it will be welcome.

One of my earlier drafts contained a reference to gross violence. Most people might think they are opposed to gross violence, but that opposition would of course rule out most good Western and war films, and many other forms of entertainment which the majority of people would not regard as reasonable to be ruled out by legislation.

The lower level of violence, for which it is much more difficult for the House to legislate, is a matter properly left to the broadcasting authorities and the watchdog committees. That is what they are there for: that is their job. All that the House can do is to lay down a bare minumum requirement below which standards shall not be allowed to fall in public television transmissions and in sound broadcasting. That is why my Bill seeks to address only the grosser forms of violence and obscenity.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

Does my hon. Friend recall that in a publication entitled "The Portrayal of Violence in Television Programmes", published by the BBC in 1983, the matter of desensitisation was examined? It is clear that what causes problems is not only what he described as the drip, drip effect, but the acute and deliberate acts of violence portrayed on television, and those problems have to be addressed. The publication said: Nevertheless a consensus of research suggests that desensitisation can result from an excess of violence and the amount and treatment of violence needs to be carefully examined all the time. It then gave examples of acts of violence which could be regarded as being desensitising and ought to be stopped.

Mr. Churchill

I agree with my hon. Friend. The drip, drip effect is worrying, but it is much more difficult to provide for in legislation. The specific acts to which my hon. Friend refers—I shall come to one or two in a moment—make a great impression on people who might be thought to be susceptible, because they are young, or are in some way mentally unbalanced, or have a drug or alcohol dependency.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

Is not the evidence for what my hon. Friend is saying coming from a different but extremely important quarter, namely, the increasing number of primary school teachers who are reporting that five-year-olds coming to school for the first time are more aggressive and much more difficult to handle than they have been in the past? Such teachers would readily subscribe to the view that the drip, drip effect of increasing violence on television to which many young children are exposed because of the irresponsibility or carelessness of their parents is having a dire effect upon them. It will go on doing so unless it is checked by the kind of legislation that my hon. Friend has in mind.

Mr. Churchill

In the BBC report on the portrayal of violence from which I quoted, reference is made to those likely to watch such material. It says: Any programme is watched by a multiplicity of different audiences … it may be designed for late evening viewing by intelligent adults, but it may also be watched by unattended children. In the theatre, cinema or bookshop you pay and thereby choose to see or read what is there. In television you make no such choice … We are aware that the BBC's programmes will always be seen by a handful of disturbed people, who may be further disturbed by what they see on the screen. Large numbers will, however, watch any adventure or 'horror' film, comedy series or popular crime series, even when placed late at night. There are even larger numbers of children among late night audiences at weekends. There we have it. Although significant numbers of children will be watching at any time of day or night, on the admission of those authorities they see fit to put out X-rated material, or 18 material, as it is now categorised, to millions of homes. If shown in the cinema, that material would be restricted to adults.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

I do not know whether my hon. Friend intended to address himself to this question. So far he has addressed himself to the effect of those programmes on children. Will he consider their effect on adults in their dealings with children?

Mr. Churchill

That is also a very important aspect.

There is no evidence that the rising tide of violence and pornography is leaving the youth of our country unscathed, or that there is no link between such material and the horrifying increase in violent crime, including violence of a sexual or sadistic nature, of which most frequently women and young children are the victims. Indeed, there is a powerful and mounting body of evidence suggesting precisely the contrary—that the growing diet of violence and obscenity to which society as a whole, including children and young persons, is being subjected is, to a significant although admittedly unquantifiable extent, responsible for many of the violent and sexual assaults regularly perpetrated in the constituencies of each and every one of us.

Mr. Tim Brinton (Gravesham)

I must admit to a considerable amount of confusion about my hon. Friend's target. At one moment I feel that it is the extreme programme for which he is going, which every right hon. and hon. Member would like to be off the screen, if it ever goes on the screen, and the next moment he seems to be referring to the drip-drip effect of ordinary programmes. Will he outline some of the day-to-day programmes, which many people watch, which he sees as his target? That would be immensely helpful to all of us.

Mr. Churchill

As I have said, within the ambit of such legislation it is possible to deal only with the more extreme manifestations of obscenity and violence. While I deplore the lower levels of violence which one sees so often on the television screen, and which undoubtedly have a harmful effect, that must be the responsibility of those charged with programming and the watchdog authorities.

The increase in crimes of violence is most disturbing and cannot be separated from the rising tide of obscene and violent material that is thrust before young people and society as a whole. Taking the figures for England and Wales, between 1954 and 1984 crimes of violence against the person increased from 7,506 to 114,187—a 15-fold increase. Notified cases of rape, which, inevitably, are far fewer than the actual total, increased during the same period from 294 to 1,433, a fivefold increase.

It is clear that the children of the nation are at risk. The House has always regarded the protection of children as one of its highest duties, and it is in that spirit that I put my Bill before the House and seek the support of hon. Members in all quarters and representative of every party. The measure is calculated to guarantee that transmissions by the broadcasting authorities are never again allowed to fall below a minimum standard in terms of obscene and violent material without risking the penalties that would be incurred by any other media publishing such material. Furthermore, it would ensure that the more explicit brand of pornographic magazine would no longer be sold in shops and bookstalls to which children and young persons have access, but would be available only to adults in appropriately licensed sex shops.

Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking)

What does the hon. Gentleman think about page three of The Sun?

Mr. Churchill

Page three of The Sun would not come within the Bill. Perhaps the hon. Lady feels that it should. In Committee it will be up to her to move an amendment, if she wishes, to deal with that.

I have no illusions about the fact that in the legislation I am taking on not one but two enormously powerful vested interests: on the one hand, the moguls of the media, who believe that they, unique of all the media in this country, should have a God-given right to be above the law in these matters, and, on the other, the pimps and pornographers of the multi-billion pound sex magazine industry, who feel that they should be allowed to peddle their wares even in local sweet shops.

Those two enormously powerful lobbies are seeking to deploy their muscle to prevent the legislation from reaching the statute book. Not only have they written to every hon. Member urging that the Bill be rejected, but I understand that representations have been made at a high level that the Bill should be allowed to proceed no further. I venture to think that my right hon. and hon. Friends will not give in to such pressure on a matter of such great public concern to the House and the country.

The public may have little appreciation of the extent to which private Member's legislation, as opposed to Government-sponsored legislation, has played an important and necessary role in carrying through many important reforms of the law, possibly nowhere more than in matters relating to obscene publications. It may have escaped the notice of many hon. Members that the Obscene Publications Act 1959 was itself a private Member's Bill introduced by the then right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford, now the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins).

In more recent years, other measures have been placed on the statute book. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) for the Protection of Children Act 1978, which makes it illegal to take, distribute, possess or publish any indecent photographs of children; to my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) for the Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981, which went a long way towards cleaning up the hoardings outside cinemas and other places and the front covers of magazines; and to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) whose Video Recordings Act 1984 has made illegal the showing or sale of what are colloquially known as video nasties, and is leading to the classification of all video material available for sale or hire.

I refer to the detail of the Bill. Clause 1 provides that, for the first time, the Obscene Publications Act shall apply to television and sound broadcasting. Subsection (2) protects broadcasters from vexatious litigation by providing that proceedings under that clause shall not be instituted except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I am aware that many people think that that safeguard should not be present and that, as with most other forms of publication, the private citizen should have the right to initiate proceedings. I respect that view, but believe that the safeguard is necessary and that it would be in line with existing arrangements in respect of the cinema, which, though like television and sound broadcasting, has its own watchdog authority in the form of the British Board of Film Classification. It is none the less subject to the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

Videos and cable broadcasting have recently been brought within the scope of the Obscene Publications Act 1959, in line with the cinema. Television and sound broadcasting alone remain outwith the Act. They were exempted because, in the words of the then Solicitor-General, Sir Harry Hylton-Foster: Television and broadcasting have their own censorship arrangements, as have films. The point that we have always sought to make, and I believe it to be sound, is that it is inconceivable that on the full public broadcasting of B.B.C. or I.T.A. there would ever be a programme so flagrantly obscene that it could be prosecutable under this Bill. If it were, it would be very difficult for the defendant to defend himself, because such programmes go out and are published to a very wide audience." —[Official Report, 24 April 1959; Vol. 604, c. 835.] The inconceivable has happened. I believe that the overwhelming majority of my colleagues who watched two recent Channel 4 efforts broadcast last November—"Jubilee" and "Sebastiane"—felt that the transmission of those films represented a flagrant violation of the statutory duty laid on television and broadcasting authorities not to transmit material which offends against public decency or good taste". While certain producers try to push ever further the frontiers of what can be pumped into people's homes, securing notoriety for themselves in the process, the watchdog committees have fallen down on the duties entrusted to them. I understand that in this case they did not trouble to view those X-rated films before they were put out.

Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)

I understand that those films received X certificates for showing in the cinema. Would they have fallen foul of the Bill?

Mr. Churchill

They would, indeed. In the case of "Jubilee", apart from the obscenity of the action, to which I shall not refer, and the four-letter content of the script, from which I shall not quote, it was the way in which the acts of violence were so lovingly and longingly dwelt on that I found particularly offensive. The viewer was shown in close-up the suffocation to death of a man with his head wrapped in a transparent plastic sheet. There was a shot of a young woman being bound to a lamp post with coils of barbed wire which cut into her flesh.

I found the portrayal of the police most insidious. Two police officers dash into what appears to be a youth club where young people are playing snooker. They kick a couple of youngsters in the groin and shoot two others gratuitously. That sets the scene for alleged police brutality and violence and is, no doubt, held to justify the final scene in which a policeman is jumped by a couple of girl punks who chop him up with razor blades. At the end, his body rolls over before the camera and his guts spill out almost into the viewer's lap.

The IBA saw fit to transmit that film within six weeks of the murder by a mob in Tottenham of PC Keith Blakelock, but was surprised at the anger felt in the country and house.

Sir Bernard Braine

And disgust.

Mr. Churchill

Indeed. It was surprised at the anger at its treatment of its responsibilities. It is not enough that the programme controllers, confronted with the whiff of Prime Ministerial grapeshot and the prospect of a little legislation, should be dashing around saying that they will review their guidelines. It is not the guidelines that need reviewing. It is the guidelines that need upholding, implementing and observing.

The BBC and the IBA have announced this week that they will clean up their act still further. In the press only this morning it emerges that a film which they have watched and feel would be too strong will not be put out because they regard it as disgusting. Why does it take legislation or the threat of it to get such action? What business have they planning to broadcast such material or commissioning such material in the first place? Is it not inevitable that, if the Bill is blocked, as the vested interests would like it to be, the authorities will quickly go back to their bad old ways and the watchdogs will go back to their corners and curl up fast asleep in their baskets?

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

I did not see the films which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and I have no wish to have them described. Is it likely that if they had been available for viewing in cinemas the DPP would have consented to proceedings being taken against the IBA for showing them?

Mr. Churchill

I think that the hon. Gentleman misinterprets the situation. The films were originally granted an X certificate. When they are shown in the cinema, the audience is exclusively adult. There is a clear difference, or there ought to be, between that and material that is broadcast on public television to 30 million homes in which, as the authorities admit, significant numbers of children and young people will be watching. The films that I mentioned would be caught by at least three of the additional tests of obscenity that I propose. They are the lewd exhibition of genital organs, excretory functions, mutilation and vicious cruelty towards persons.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

Although the common law offence of obscenity has not been invoked for many years, it applies to broadcasting, notwithstanding the fact that the 1959 Act does not.

Mr. Churchill

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. A central element of the Bill, which is long overdue, is that henceforth broadcasters, like newspapers editors and proprietors, film producers and the book and magazine trade, will be subject to the law of the land in matters of obscenity and violence.

Mr. Fairbairn

I understand the difficulty of drafting a Bill of this nature, but it does not apply to Scotland. Why are the Scots to have tartan obscenity, when the English are not to have non-tartan obscenity?

Mr. Churchill

My hon. and learned Friend raises a relevant point. My Bill is not intended to apply to either Scotland or to Northern Ireland, because the original Act does not apply to them. As my hon. and learned Friend knows, both Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own legislative provisions.

The IBA has sent notes to all hon. Members on its view of the effect of the Bill, if it is enacted. The IBA states: The Obscene Publications Act is designed to apply to material for which no other regulatory mechanism exists. Public broadcasting is centrally controlled, and subject to statutory standards. That statement is inaccurate. Indeed, I am surprised that the Solicitor-General has not written the IBA a letter which someone may leak. The cinema, like broadcasting, is centrally controlled and subject to what might be called censorship. Nevertheless, it comes within the scope of the Obscene Publications Act, and the British Board of Film Classification welcomes that fact.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

The hon. Gentleman would not wish inadvertently to mislead the House. The old British Board of Film Censors, which is now the British Board of Film Classification, has from the beginning made its position clear. If it is asked to give an opinion on a script it may do so, but it is not a film censor. It classifies whatever is brought before it. Therefore, although the hon. Gentleman may think that the parallel he draws is valid, it is inaccurate.

Mr. Churchill

The hon. Lady is not right on that point. I appreciate that for cosmetic purposes the board chooses to be known as the British Board of Film Classification, as opposed to the British Board of Film Censors, but it can and does refuse classification for certain categories of film. The board has effectively censored and ruled out video nasties. It certainly has a censorship role, and films are definitely subject to the Obscene Publications Act. The IBA's statement is factually inaccurate.

THe IBA states in relation to the Bill: The inclusion of the broadcasting authorities would seriously impair the ability to provide responsible public service broadcasting. The IBA has nothing to fear from the Bill, unless it intends to put over material which is patently obscene, and so obscene and violent that a court of law would hold it to be an offence under the Act.

It is high time that the House affirmed the glorious principle enunciated with such eloquence by Lord Denning when, as Master of the Rolls, he declared; Be ye ever so mighty, the Law of England is still above you. I recognise that the tireless campaigner Mrs. Mary Whitehouse and many others would have liked the Bill to go further, and, specifically, to replace the principal test of obscenity contained in the 1959 Act—the tendency to deprave and corrupt. That is beyond the scope of the Bill, and I certainly do not intend to replace that test. However, clause 2 introduces an additional test which will apply to material available in places to which children have access, that is, shops, and bookstalls and, by the fact that it is transmitted to 30 million homes, to material broadcast to homes.

I recognise that the Williams committee expressed great reservations about the concept of a list. I venture to think that that was because at the time the idea of a list was to replace the principal test of obscenity. That is not my intention. It is to be additional to the principal test. The weakness of a list alone is that inevitably people will use their ingenuity to find ever new forms of obscenity and loopholes. That is why I have not seen fit to seek to replace the original test of obscenity.

Most of the anxieties represented to me by the director general of the BBC, the chairman of IBA, the director of the British Board of Film Classification, and representatives of publishers and booksellers, with all of whom I have had consultations, would be met by section 4, on the defence of material published for the public good as being of cultural, artistic or educational merit.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

A further anxiety is that in a limited number of cases materials that will fall within the excluded list are published for either medical or educational reasons. It appears that the section for defence will not protect such publications. Will my hon. Friend be prepared in Committee to consider amendments to take account of that anxiety?

Mr. Churchill

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. That is precisely the point to which I am coming.

Following the representations that I have received, and if the House gives the Bill its Second Reading, I intend to introduce an amendment to clause 2 specifically to exclude articles which are primarily works of art, history or education, and work concerned with science or medical science. They would in any case be covered by section 4, but that would he clumsy, because it could lead to a prosecution and expensive legal fees before those involved could get shot of that prosecution. I should like an amendment which would exclude those articles from the scope of clause 2.

Following representations from the broadcasting authorities, and as before I entered the House I had the unpleasant task of going to battlefronts and reporting wars on various continents, I believe that an exemption should be made for current affairs news reporting. Many people find reporting from Aden and other battlefronts deeply violent and offensive. Nevertheless, it is proper, within limits, to show that to the public. They should not be cocooned from it. It is above all artificial, synthetic and enacted violence which most people find offensive.

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage)

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is no objection to the Bill, as seems to be thought by some Labour Members, on the ground that it does not touch everything? It touches some important things, and surely that is what matters.

Mr. Churchill

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I recognise that I have already taken up too much of the time of the House.

Ms. Clare Short

The hon. Gentleman said that he was not amending the original definition of "to degrade and corrupt". My understanding of the Bill is that the depiction of revolting things in paragraph (a) of the suggested subsection (3A) is in addition to the original definition. Therefore, he has slightly misled the House. The test is not whether those things are depicted in a way that would deprave or corrupt, but whether they are depicted at all.

Mr. Churchill

The hon. Lady is correct. This is an additional test or hurdle which such material—principally magazines sold in newsagents and bookstalls, and what is transmitted to the home by public television—will have to jump. However imperfect that list may be and susceptible to improvement in Committee, which I fully recognise, the material caught by the Bill will automatically be held to be obscene. There will be no question of calling in expert witnesses to say why something should be allowed. The material will simply be off-limits—something which broadcasters cannot put out or which magazine publishers cannot sell other than in a licensed sex shop.

The protection of children is one of the highest duties of the House, and I respectfully submit that there is a strong case for broadcasting to be brought within the scope of obscene publications legislation and for magazines of an explicit or pornographic nature not to be available in everybody's local newsagent or sweetshop.

I invite the House to support the Bill.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

It will be clear to the House that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. I hope that those who are fortunate enough to catch my eye will remember that.

10.22 am
Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)

In response to your request, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall be brief.

I am pleased to be a sponsor of the Bill and, whatever its outcome, I congratulate the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) on giving the House a substantial opportunity to debate this serious and worrying topic. There may be defects in what he is attempting, but at least he is trying to tackle a serious and comparatively new social problem.

My father was a Congregational minister. It was he who coined the phrase that the Labour party owed more to Methodism than to Marx, although I concede that the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody)—the late Morgan Phillips—was the man who put it into current popular usage. I come from this non-Conformist background, and the House may know that recently I paid a heavy price for refusing to budge from the non-conformist views instilled into me in my youth.

Sometimes, we do not understand how very recent the phenomenon of television is. I did not see a television set until I was on leave from the Royal Navy in 1948 when I watched the third day of the fifth test against Australia at the Oval. I had been to the Oval on the first day and I saw England shot out for 52. That was bad, but worse was to come on the second day when Bradman was out for a duck in his last test innings. I could not face going to the ground for the third day. I was nearly 20 and I saw my first television set.

Now, almost day and night, there is a constant stream of programmes on various channels. We do not appreciate its impact on youth because many of us were not exposed to it during our formative years. The impact of the senses on what the mind learns and absorbs is vague. By far the most powerful sense for gathering information and impressions and forming opinions is the visual sense. Repeatedly in research the visual sense has been shown to be all important.

I remember soon after I came to the House conducting school parties around. They were almost anaesthetised by my tedious commentary until they got to the Princes' Chamber. They became alive then because on the walls of the Chamber are pictures of Henry VIII and his six wives, and there had been a recent television series on Henry VIII. They knew all about it, much more than I did—they knew which wives went which way, and so on. It is obvious that television is a most powerful medium and a most impressionable one.

It is self-evident that television has an impact on people or commercial television would not exist. People pay high prices to have their products and services advertised at what are called peak viewing times. That can only be because there must be a substantial impact on the viewers. It is easier to destroy standards in society than to establish them. I am not impressed by some of the material that I have received pointing out to me the error of my ways in being a sponsor of the Bill. It has been counter-productive.

The world is a violent place and we see enough violence in everyday life without having our children exposed to it in this way at young, impressionable ages. I am pleased to be a sponsor of the Bill and I congratulate the hon. Member for Davyhulme on his enterprise in introducing it.

10.27 am
Sir Ian Percival (Southport)

I contratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) on introducing the Bill and am happy to support him in it. I will make it as clear as I can, as quickly as I can, why I support the Bill's limited objectives. If passed, it will do something to reduce the volume of sheer filth with which our society is being soiled. We must do many other things. I was horrified to hear all the interruptions during my hon. Friend's speech. We know that he is trying to do only one of the things that could be done—that is to limit the bringing into our homes by television or bookstalls of the sheer filth that is made available to young children in those ways. That is the lowest common denominator and surely we can all share it. In case anyone thinks I am exaggerating, I point out that I have chosen the phrase "sheer filth" very carefully. It is the mildest description that I can give. If one gets into the degrees of perversion involved, there is a danger of exaggerating; "sheer filth" is the lowest common denominator.

This filth degrades and debases human values and standards and could destroy the very dignity of life itself. I am not talking just about sexual matters. At least as important are cruelty, sadism and sheer crudity. The debasing of sexual values is of great importance in our society. Many aspects of the more open, modern approach to sex are wholly good. But what we are talking about takes all dignity and beauty from that fragile and mystical aspect of our lives, which if shorn of dignity and beauty, and, dare I be so old fashioned as to say, shorn of love can so easily be degraded and debased, so often bringing misery where there should be nothing but joy.

Why do I stress this aspect of sheer filth? I hope that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) is not smiling at what I am saying.

Mr. Churchill

She always does.

Ms. Short


Sir Ian Percival

If the hon. Lady can assure me that she is not smiling, then I shall be satisfied.

Ms. Short

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. I was moved by the words that he used. That is why I was smiling.

Sir Ian Percival

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady. I am glad that I said what I did, because I greatly welcome her assurance.

Why do I stress this aspect of sheer filth? It is because I believe that, happily, most people have no first hand knowledge of the sheer filth that is being propagated, no idea how filthy it is. They do not see it.

Why, then, do I know about it? It is because I had to see some of it when I was Solicitor-General. I was nauseated by it. Why do people produce and publish it? I do not really mind why they do it. Whatever their reasons, it is a gross abuse of the freedoms, privileges and responsibilities of free speech, but what so often makes it even worse is that so much of it is produced and published purely for money, despite the fact that those who make money in this way well know the damage that it must do to some people. To produce and publish this material for money is in my view comparable in every respect with selling drugs for money, despite the fact that it is known that drugs destroy.

Most young people, especially young couples with children, understand the value of adhering, or trying to adhere—none of us is good enough always to adhere—to moral values and standards. They want very much to bring up their children in that belief and for us to assist them to do so. Heaven knows, they are faced with enough difficulties in trying to do so. If this House cannot at least provide them with the limited assistance that is afforded by the Bill, it is not the place of which I have been proud to be a Member for so long.

Let the House also be in no doubt as to the strength of public opinion. The vast majority of my constituents simply cannot understand how anybody could wish to make available this kind of filth or how anybody could stand up to defend the right of anybody to make it available. My constituents would be unable to understand this House if it were to defend the right of people to peddle and propagate filth, especially for profit. I myself cannot believe that anyone who had seen it could defend the right of people to peddle and purvey the kind of stuff to which I am referring.

I hope that the House will take this opportunity to show that it is in tune with the people whom it represents and that it will do something to help young people, including young couples who are trying to bring up their children to enjoy a good, decent, law abiding life. The Bill will make a contribution towards that aim.

I sincerely hope that the House will give its backing to the Bill and will speed it on its way.

10.33 am
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

I had intended to say that I find the spectacle of the House of Commons lashing itself into a fervour about sexual matters faintly disquieting, but in view of the Bill that we are discussing perhaps that would be an unfortunate beginning.

I care desperately about the material that is seen by young children and about the way that their minds are formed, but I am very worried about the Bill. I came to this debate because I thought that the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) would be able to set at rest many of my fears about the drafting of the Bill and about what I can only describe as its highly subjective phraseology. I am afraid that he has not done so.

When the House frames legislation, we should ensure that it performs two tasks. First, it must be legislation that can be enforced. It must be properly framed, clear to those who have to respond to it and capable of being enforced. Secondly, the legislation must not be in response to a farrago of prejudice. It must grow out of a real need in the community.

I am as deeply concerned as any other right hon. or hon. Member about the increase in the number of cases of rape and violence against women. I should like right hon. and hon. Members to join me today in asking the Home Office to provide proper funding for rape crisis centres and proper training for our police forces. Then we should begin to tackle some of the problems that face so many of our people. However, I am not convinced that the Bill will have any effect upon those problems. The hon. Member for Davyhulme skated very lightly over some of the questions that he was asked. I intend to return to them because they are exceedingly important.

If the House of Commons takes the view that our children and young adults are being depraved because they are able to get hold of unsuitable material, we must be quite clear about what we are saying. If it is felt that the constant repetition of violence on television changes people's attitudes, all real violence must also be included. The hon. Member for Davyhulme did not answer that question. In fact, he said that he did not want current affairs programmes to be censored. That was a welcome reply. However, he did not reply to the question that he was asked about the constant drip, drip of violence that is almost acceptable: people being thrown out of cars or across rooms, or people constantly being shot at and attacked. He did not seem to think that that constituted a problem. He said that we had to be very careful, or we might rule out some of the western films that he likes.

Mr. Jackson

Is not the hon. Lady making the old mistake of making the best the enemy of the good?

Mrs. Dunwoody

No, certainly not. I am saying that those who pass laws in this House have a responsibility to think about the way in which those laws are framed. If we put on to the statute book legislation that is manifest nonsense, far from protecting children all we shall do is to allow any lawyer to drive a coach and horses through it. The result will be the very opposite of what we are seeking to do.

Mr. Churchill

I do not believe that the hon. Lady could have followed me when I made it clear in reply to earlier questions that I was not overlooking the drip, drip of violence to which she referred. If she studied the matter as I have tried to do in recent weeks, she would find that it is very difficult to produce formulas that rule out the lower and medium levels of violence to which she referred, which I fully admit are very insidious, without excluding that which none of us wishes to exclude. For that reason, my Bill is a limited measure. It deals with the more extreme manifestations of both obscenity and violence.

Mrs. Dunwoody

The difficulty about that is that I understand that the Bill would change the definition of obscenity and would add to some of the existing safeguards — [Interruption.] I am very happy to be barracked by hon. Members who are lawyers.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

I am not a lawyer.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon.

Mr. Dickens

If the hon. Lady had listened to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill), she would have realised that he made it perfectly clear to all those right hon. and hon. Members who were listening that the Bill did not change the definition of obscenity. In fact, we rely absolutely upon the original definition in the Obscene Publications Act 1959. I do not understand how the hon. Lady can say that to the House.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. I had not realised which hon. Member was muttering.

The Bill changes the Obscene Publications Act 1959, which specifically exempts any material shown on television or broadcast on radio from the operation of the statutory test of obscenity. The Bill includes television and sound broadcasting, although proceedings would be taken only with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. That does not apply in other obscenity Acts.

Mr. Churchill

Again the hon. Lady cannot have been listening to what I said. That applies to the cinema. For that reason, I thought fit to interpose the DPP in the case of television.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I do not wish to be unkind to the hon. Gentleman, but he is wrong. The old British Board of Film Censors, now the British Board of Film Classification, can continue to exist only provided that it makes it clear to everyone that it is not a censor. That is the central reason for its existence. It has always made it clear that it exists to classify material. If it classifies material in such a way that it cannot be shown in Britain, that does not prevent the material from being produced or from being shown under certain conditions. However, the board has made it clear that it does not censor scripts or films.

Mr. Buchan

The hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) does not understand the problem or his own Bill, which changes the definition when it states that the following list of things shall be deemed to be obscene. The previous definition was that there had to be proof of its depraving and corrupting nature. That is a major change in the definition.

Mrs. Dunwoody

The test of obscenity has always been one of effect depending upon the circumstances of the publication. The Bill grafts on to that provision a different test of absolute obscenity which can be additionally and alternatively applicable in various cases.

What frightens me about the Bill is that the written word is excluded. Presumably one could describe all sorts of things that would not be caught by the Bill. The worries of the hon. Member for Davyhulme have been described by him in highly subjective terms. The right hon. and learned Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival) constantly referred to sheer filth. One man's sheer filth can be another man's boring and irritating material. The film "Sebastiane" has already been mentioned. It was programmed extremely late at night. I watched half a reel, but I was so incredibly bored that I switched off my television set.

We must have a sense of proportion about the programming of material on television and material that is available on the bookstalls. I have received letters from constituents who are newsagents and who are extremely careful about how they organise their displays. They believe that they would be put in a difficult position because of the extraordinarily wide wording of the Bill. Their worries are real. If the displays have been carefully arranged so that the average young person has difficulty in reaching any material that can be regarded as obscene, the newsagents have taken all sensible precautions. However, the hon. Member for Davyhulme says that his definition is acceptable. If a person under the age of 18 could have access to obscene material, the newsagent is brought within the scope of the legislation. What the hon. Gentleman is doing is dangerous and discriminatory.

Mr. Cash

The hon. Lady's constituency borders on mine. There is no evidence in my constituency that anyone would wish to have that type of material available. I hope that the same applies in her constituency.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Since we are all playing this game, perhaps the hon. Gentleman should have listened to what I said. Various newsagents in my constituency have written to me saying that the wording of the Bill is so defective that they can see themselves being put at risk. I repeat that, because I believe that it is important.

I am deeply worried that, because of the highly emotive terms of the legislation, the hon. Member for Davyhulme is seeking to pander to the worst type of prejudice, and the Bill will not achieve his real aims.

There is much published material that lends itself to the degradation of women. I do not care for nudity in the daily newspapers. The extraordinary physiques that are produced with the aid of silicones and other strangely artificial substances are not attractive. If page 2 was to consist entirely of nude males, many hon. Members would be terribly shocked and would constantly complain in the House that the newspapers had abandoned all sense of decency and had no intention of maintaining the best standards of family life. There is no more reason to look at naked females than there is to look at naked males. They are at a similar level of pulchritude.

Under the guise of protecting children, we could be producing legislation that will not work. That is my real complaint against the Bill. It has been born out of prejudice and fostered by bad law and even by bad advice. The Bill will not be discussed in terms that are important for those who care about broadcast or published material. I believe that, because of the number of hours of broadcasting and the amount of material that is put out, mistakes will be made in the broadcasting community. There is no group of human beings who always have a delicate nuance of taste so that they will not make mistakes or produce programmes that are not offensive to someone.

By ignoring violence, in the broadest sense, the Bill could give the impression that violence was perfectly acceptable. That is the most worrying aspect of the Bill. I hope that the Bill will not be accepted. I believe that it is extraordinarily badly drawn. The hon. Member for Davyhulme has not set at rest any of my objections, but he has confirmed my view that the Bill owes more to the need for artificial moral outrage than a genuine desire to improve the legislation. The Bill is a bad piece of writing, and I hope that the House will throw it out.

10.49 am
Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (Surrey, South-West)

I give my wholehearted support to the Bill and I am proud to have sponsored it. So far in the debate we have not heard enough about the great difference between television as a medium of communication and, for example, page 3 of The Sun. Television comes into people's sitting rooms and, as such, is acceptable to children from an early age.

As someone who worked closely with children before entering Parliament and who tried to understand how they build up a view of the world, I believe that what they see on television is as important as what their parents or grandparents do. It is a combination of the visual and the spoken word.

Earlier this week, hon. Members saw episodes from the films "Jubilee" and "Sebastiane". It was deeply shocking that, despite the guidelines and assurances by the broadcasting authorities, those films were shown on television, albeit late at night. I entirely reject any suggestion that children will not see programmes that are broadcast late at night. Anyone who has been responsible for children knows that they often come downstairs late at night because they wake up and are afraid. If they enter a sitting room where such frightening programmes are on television, it can only be deeply damaging to them. What appears on page 3 of The Sun may not be to everyone's taste, but they are fairly friendly pictures—

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Positively cuddly, really.

Mrs. Bottomley

I could not have said it better myself.

Some television programmes are deeply depraved and meaningless. They undermine people's moral structure and they leave children with a deep sense of confusion about the world.

Not only children but many people who live alone, perhaps in an alienated and unhappy state, can be affected. As hon. Members, we are the least well placed to comment on television programmes, because we—

Mr. Brinton

My hon. Friend spoke feelingly about the effect of television programmes on children. Some years ago, one of my children—who was then five years old—exhibited similar problems with an episode of "Dr. Who". Does she wish to include "Dr. Who" in the embraces of the Bill?

Mrs. Bottomley

I am bemused by the suggestion that, because the Bill does not cover everything, it should be rejected. It is only a first step. "Dr. Who" has a wide audience, and far be it from me to alienate many of my constituents by saying that they should be deprived of the programme. But that does not undermine the rationale of the Bill, which is to extend the Obscene Publications Act to cover broadcasting on television and to list the specific acts which should be outlawed. I feel more strongly about broadcasting than about magazines. Of course, it is a good idea to remove them from bookshops where they are easily available, but the widespread outcry is about television.

We have had promises that the guidelines will be reviewed and implemented. For the most part, our broadcasting authorities are splendid. However, on this point, hon. Members are constantly approached by parents, teachers and the clergy, who say, "Why is there such an appalling diet of obscenity and violence on television?" Of course, the Bill does not deal with violence.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Does the hon. Lady consider that the "A Team", which conveys the impression that violence is acceptable because people are subjected to extreme attacks and then get up and walk away, is an acceptable form of television? If she does, can she tell us what is acceptable about that violence but not other forms of violence? I am trying hard to understand what she is worried about. She is not making herself as clear as she might.

Mrs. Bottomley

If when the hon. Lady has the good fortune to introduce a private Member's Bill she wishes to draft legislation on violence, I shall undoubtedly support her. The point about the Bill is that vicious cruelty has been specified for the first time. I accept the difficulties of making definitions, and I applaud my hon. Friend for trying to restrict the list.

Mr. Buchan

Does the hon. Lady realise that this would prevent the showing of "King Lear", that is a play by Shakespeare?

Mrs. Bottomley

I welcome my hon. Friend's acknowledgement that, in Committee, he would be happy to introduce an amendment to allow the broadcasting of programmes for artistic, historic, educational or scientific purposes. Of course, there must be exceptions.

Hon. Members who oppose the Bill deeply misunderstand the mood of the country. There is widespread anxiety and unhappiness about the fact that television shows a diet of programmes which offers children and their families the worst examples of behaviour.

Ms. Clare Short

I agree with the hon. Lady that there is widespread anxiety in the country about the amount of violence on television. I also believe that many people object to page 3 of The Sun. However, it is wrong for the sponsors of the Bill to pretend that it will deal with the matter that causes that widespread anxiety. It is not good enough to say, "There is anxiety, so we shall throw a defective piece of legislation at it," because that will not deal with the matters which really worry people.

Mrs. Bottomley

I hear what the hon. Lady says, but I do not share her view.

I believe that this is an important Bill which I hope will begin to redress the balance. For too long, we have emphasised the importance of freedom of expression and under-emphasised our responsibility to the young, the vulnerable and the susceptible in our care. From the previous census returns, we discovered that twice as many people lived on their own. Increasingly, people live alone and are fearful. Many television programmes show sadistic attacks on women, which arouse the fears of many women who live alone. They also fuel the worst instincts in those with vulnerable personalities. All of us must be worried about the increasing number of crimes, especially sexual crimes. It is ludicrous to believe that, with such a constant diet on television, we are not inflaming people's worst instincts and desensitising them.

In "1984", George Orwell recognised the importance of communicating through big brother on the screen in people's homes. We are only beginning to come to terms with the problem. Since nearly all households have television sets, it is essential for the public good that action is taken now to improve what is seen in people's homes. For that reason, I wholeheartedly support the Bill.

10.58 am
Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)

I wish to deal with some of the confusion that is apparent among the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) and some of those who support the Bill. First, this is bad legislation, principally because it does not understand the problems with which it is supposed to deal. That makes it unhelpful. Secondly, those of us who recognise that there is a serious problem are among those who criticise the Bill. Those of us who have been involved in this area know that it is a bad Bill. I do not attribute wrong motives to the hon. Gentleman, and I say nothing about electoral advantage, but if he had been seriously worried about the problem he would have dealt with it a little more intelligently.

I share the anxieties of the hon. Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley) about violence, but when questions are asked in an attempt to place the matter in a broader context it is not enough to say, "That should be left to another Bill", or, "Do not criticise this Bill because it deals with only one aspect." The Bill is bad from beginning to end and will not solve the problem. A long time ago—longer ago than I care to think—I was given the task by the Educational Institute of Scotland of analysing the many horror comics that were being published at the time. Within 48 hours, by approaching two classes in a secondary school, I had literally hundreds of such comics. I came out of the first two months of examination sick and horrified. The children who gave those comics to me were not in the least bit affected as I had been affected. Therefore, there is nothing new in the portrayal of horror and violence directed at young people for profit. Incidentally, profit can often come under the heading of obscenity.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a profound difference between the written word and what appears on television? I am talking largely about children under five who cannot read. They are beginning to understand reality and how the world works. They do not discriminate between what they see on television and what happens in their family. The comic stage comes much later in their development.

Mr. Buchan

I wish that the hon. Lady would not preach to us. We know the problems. Some of us have been involved with them closely. We do not like to be told that two and two make four. Those horror comics were visual. I was not stressing how healthy the children who read them were compared to me—that was a passing point. I have no doubt that they had an effect on the children. For one thing, they gave them a kind or pre-sexual shock before they reached sexual maturity.

I remember one particular example of a horrifying set of visual images. A business man was portrayed making a trip to south America. He distrusted his wife because she happened to be beautiful, so he locked her in the cellar before he left, with a plentiful supply of food, so that no man could get near her before he returned. His plane crashed in the jungle and he took a year to get back, terrified that he might find his wife dead. The last picture showed him dashing down the steps saying, "Thank goodness you are alive, dear." She said, "Thank goodness you have arrived. I was beginning to think that I was turning into a vole." They embraced and suddenly he saw to his horror that she had turned into a vole. I cannot express the bestiality of that particular picture, so I know what we are talking about.

When I see some of the apostles of morality in the House, I reach for my chastity belt. We see a parade of morality from people who have not necessarily always behaved with the best of morality. It may be that they are trying to achieve an inner cleanliness by supporting such a Bill; that they feel that they will somehow recover a kind of purity—a restoration of virginity.

I should have thought that clause 2 would almost be subject to the charge of obscenity. Hon. Members seem to take pleasure in listing such obscene phrases as acts of masturbation, sodomy, oral-genital connection and oral-anal connection. Come to think of it, there is an old word for oral-anal connection which is often used in politics. They take a certain pleasure in this, which I find detestable.

Mr. Churchill

Does the hon. Gentleman really think that the acts that he has read out should be put over on television?

Mr. Buchan

The filthiest piece of film that I have ever seen was at a Scottish amateur film festival. Incidentally, Scotland is excluded from the Bill. We shall not be protected. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I am about to answer the question, exactly and precisely in my own way, which is more than the hon. Gentleman did in replying to questions.

The filthiest film that I have ever seen was the portrayal at a Scottish amateur film festival of a film of nothing but a pair of hands writhing in total silence for seven minutes. The audience was on edge in an acute state of erotically aroused embarrassment.

The listing of a number of examples like this does not deal with their effect upon children and others. What is important is the intention of the craftsman or member within the whole context. The worst of all possible films could escape, while the examples used here could be portrayed in such a way that, instead of arousing disgust and horror, they would be an essential part of arousing compassion, yet they would be caught by the Bill. That is particularly true with reference to vicious cruelty.

Under the Bill, vicious cruelty towards animals could not be portrayed. and a film backing up an appeal for an animal charity, for example, could not be shown. Films dealing with the act of war could not be portrayed. If we had had daily television during the first world war showing the carnage and vicious cruelty that occurred, that war would not have gone on for four years. That portrayal of vicious cruelty would have aroused compassion. If one war was stopped by television, it was a war of the most vicious cruelty—the war in Vietnam. It was its portrayal that brought about the end of that war. I wish that the hon. Member for Davyhulme would grow up and think about what he is doing.

Mr. Cash

The hon. Gentleman is making some ridiculous allegations. He clearly has not read the Bill and the provision which clearly states: Proceedings for an offence under this section … shall not be instituted except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. If the hon. Gentleman genuinely believes that the Director of Public Prosecutions would take action in the instance that he has just mentioned, he needs to have his head examined.

Mr. Buchan

Perhaps we should have a simple Bill which says that all problems of obscenity will be left to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Bill tells the public prosecutor how he should act. That is the function of legislation, because if it is not, legality is completely arbitrary. Honestly, the inadequacy of thought of the hon. Member for Davyhulme appals me.

Ms. Clare Short

Conservative Members keep trying to correct Labour Members, but they keep misrepresenting the Bill. The consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions is required in matters of television, but in all other areas his consent is not required. Therefore, the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) is wrong.

Mr. Jackson

The Bill leaves in place section 4 of the 1959 Act, which provides the defence of public good, covering all the cases that the hon. Gentleman cites. The hon. Gentleman is trying to be philosophical, but he reminds me of what Burke said about those philosophers who "subtilize themselves into savagery".

Mr. Buchan

I am not sure whether I got all the words, but I think that it was the hon. Gentleman who intervened on the best and the good, failing to understand that our criticism of the Bill is based not only on the fact that it deals with some aspects and not all, but that it destroys the present basis of law, including the basis of control that we have over the broadcasting authority and extends it irrespective of intent or anything else.

I wish that the ex-Solicitor-General would stop shaking his head. He made quite a good speech. It was by far the best speech from a Conservative Member. I sympathise with him, but he knows that it is the context in which something is done or shown that really matters.

Sir Ian Percival

I deplore interventions, because I like to hear hon. Members make their speeches, but I must regard that as an invitation either to accept or deny what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I am bound to say that I do not accept it. I deny it. He is talking a lot of rubbish.

Mr. Buchan

I am told from behind that that is a compliment, and I think that it is. We are dealing with serious issues, and I should not allow myself to be sidetracked.

Sir Ian Percival

I did not mean to be as offensive as I might have sounded in an effort to be brief. The hon. Gentleman is dealing with great intellectual questions, but the Bill, as I tried to point out, deals with only one aspect of an enormous problem—filth and getting rid of it. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is denying that there is filth and that we should get rid of it.

Mr. Buchan

I am receiving so much advice from all sides that I am not sure that I have taken it all on board. With private Members' Bills one can take only a small aspect, because they cannot deal with the generality. That is not the case with this Bill, because it is changing the definition of obscenity, among other things. It is laying down a fresh set of laws when a structure of control, practised over the years, already exists. We are dealing with a major issue.

The Bill ignores the main problem because the hon. Member for Davyhulme has not understood the main problem. The main problem of the horror comics to which I referred was not isolated to the picture that I described, but was about desensitising. The real problem is not the display of male genitals, or the display of vicious cruelty, but the context in which those things are set.

The problem that we are facing with violence and obscenity is that to which I have referred. Someone quoted me as using the term "constant drip", but I did not use that term. The desensitising goes on because of the constancy, not because of a specific and horrific act which can frighten or disturb someone. It results from the deadening of awareness through continual careless violence. It is the careless violence of the American pulp serials — car crashes, easy mugging, batterings and so on—that leads to desensitising. A single act of horror can create a more alert and aware community which will react against it rather than for it.

Continual desensitising and betrayal are caused by cheap material, produced and financed by the people whom Conservative Members represent. They are driving to bring such motivation into all the publicity by backing such things as the attempt in the Peacock report to bring financial control, rather than judgment control, into broadcasing. Pulp serials will be the end result for the sort of television that Conservative Members want. If that were not so, they would resist the pressure to move towards the introduction of advertising and financial control and opening up satellite broadcasting to the money boys. That is the problem with which the hon. Member for Davyhulme should have dealt. We object to the Bill because it is a bad Bill, not just because it fails to deal with some of the important problems.

At the end of his speech the hon. Member for Davyhulme suddenly destroyed his Bill. He said that he would be prepared to accept amendments to it. If we allow the artistic definition to supersede all of this by an amendment, there is no point in having it in the first place. If we say that we will exclude news broadcasting, there is no point to the proposed new section (3A)(b), or to paragraph (a). The truth is that the hon. Member does not know what he is doing. He started something that was infinitely bigger than he had understood, and he is now saying that, because he was stupid, he will be prepared to listen to hon. Members in Committee who will straighten the Bill out.

Mr. Churchill

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman should seek to bring the debate down to such a petty level. Even if my Bill is passed as it stands, section 4, the defence of public good, will stand. That will mean that there will be a complete defence if the material is published in the interests of science, literature, art, learning or other objectives which are of general concern. Is it a fault that, following representations which I have received from various quarters, I have said I will be prepared to introduce or accept an amendment to clause 2 which will have the effect of not requiring a defendant to go through the rigmarole of making a section 4 defence, but will automatically explicitly exempt certain categories from the provisions of the clause?

Mr. Buchan

It seems to me to be an enormous fault that at the end of his speech the hon. Gentleman said he had listened to pressure and would change his Bill by at least 90 per cent. What about those who have signed the Bill? Did he tell them that he would change it? Did he tell the organisations with whom he has been in touch to support him that he would change it? That is not honest dealing with the people who support him. It is not an honest Bill. We can deal only with the Bill as it is before us, not with what the hon. Gentleman says he will accept when somebody suggests amendments.

The proposed new section (3A) which refers in paragraph (a) to mutilation or vicious cruelty towards persons or animals will prevent films of compassion or nature films from being made. It will also stop most of our news bulletins from being made. It is not just news bulletins that cause desensitising. On the contrary, news bulletins showing vicious cruelty have helped to transform our attitudes. We must think of the response to the famine in Ethiopia. That, to a certain extent, was man-made vicious cruelty We must think of the response of the American people to seeing the effects of napalm bombing in Vietnam. The hon. Gentleman is now saying that news bulletins will be dropped from the Bill. Thank goodness for that, but it would be better if he were to drop the whole Bill.

Mr. Churchill


Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

The hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) is being frivolous.

Mr. Buchan

I am not being frivolous. I am deadly serious about this matter. We must consider the effects of the Bill on non-documentary material. The hon. Member for Surrey, South-West seemed surprised when I suggested that the Bill would prevent "King Lear" from being shown. In "King Lear" they gouge out somebody's eyes with the words, "Out, vile jelly." Out pops the eyeball. That is vicious cruelty.

Has the hon. Member for Davyhulme seen "Titus Andronicus", which has an example of cannibalism because he is forced to eat his own children? Has the hon. Member read the plot of "Hamlet"? A man goes mad, there is adultery, suggested incest and a succession of murders, and Hamlet is not content to kill Claudius in one way, but insists on doing it in two ways.

I always remember the comment of Bernard Miles on the script of "Hamlet". The final scene is one of carnage and vicious cruelty in the whole court of Denmark. Bernard Miles comes in as the local constable and says: 'Allo, 'alto, wot's going on here?" That kind of play would also be banned. Heaven help the Bible. Sodomy, buggery, and incest shock, yet that book has transformed mankind. When we say that the hon. Member for Davyhulme has not understood the dimensions of the problem or the implications of the Bill, we are not being frivolous; we are being deadly serious. If he wants to bring in the changes that he now seems to begin to recognise as necessary, he would do well to withdraw the Bill and go back to his study and think again.

11.20 am
Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bow and Poplar)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. First, may I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) and to the House generally for not being in my place earlier. I had an important political engagement earlier in the morning. I apologise also, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for not having notified the Chair in advance of the nature of my point of order. If I had caught up with the matter in time, I would have done so. I noticed the point only on my fourth re-reading of the Bill a few minutes before I entered the Chamber.

It seems that clause 1(2) is out of order because it is outside the terms of the long title. The major part of the long title describes the Bill as a measure to amend section 1 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959, but subsection (2) does not amend that section. It amends by an addition to section 2 of the Act. Therefore, the subsection is outside the part of the long title which refers to section 1.

It is possible for the provision to be included in the long title only if it falls within the definition of making a consequential provision. I submit that clause 1(2) is not consequential upon clause 1(1) or to any other part of the Bill.

We are all familiar with the problems of consequentiality. We have all moved amendments in Committee, for example, only to find it necessary to move a number of consequential amendments. Without a consequential amendment the Bill would be anomalous as it would say two different things in two parts, or it would be incomplete because that stated in one part of the Bill would not be followed through in other parts.

The Bill would be whole and would not be anomalous—indeed, it would be consistent and whole—if clause 1(2) were not included. I believe that the subsection is a good provision to have in the Bill and my point of order is not designed to obstruct this measure because I shall support its Second Reading. The subsection is a worthy provision but it falls outside the long title.

I regret that I am taking so long in raising this point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it is a complicated issue and I am doing my best to put it shortly. It is fortunate that the matter can be put right with the tiniest of amendments. I suggest that the long title could be amended by deleting in line 1 "section 1" and inserting "sections 1 and 2". If the hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. There is great pressure on time in this debate and the issue that he is raising is one that can be debated legitimately at this stage or at subsequent stages. It is not really a point of order for me.

11.24 am
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) intends to support the Bill on Second Reading. It is a pity that he did not have the opportunity of talking to the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) before the latter addressed the House. In many ways, the speech of the hon. Member for Paisley, South was remarkable. The hon. Gentleman is rather a nice man, but no one would have thought that while listening to his speech. It was one of the nastiest, grubbiest and most ill-thought-out speeches that I have heard for a long time.

I have dissented occasionally from what my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) has said, but the criticism of him by the hon. Member for Paisley, South was intemperate, disagreeable and a disgrace. I bear in mind that the hon. Gentleman is the Opposition Front Bench spokesman on the arts. It is lamentable that such an important matter should have been treated by the hon. Gentleman in such a grubby, disagreeable and ill-thoughtout manner.

I do not make the same criticism of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). I do not think that her arguments are right, but I think that they are worth considering. They seemed to be largely of a Committee sort. She made points that need to be taken into account. but they do not go to the root of the Bill. Her main complaint was that there are disagreeable things published that are not covered by the Bill. That is true, but this is a narrow measure and I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme deserves the support of the House. That is why I am pleased to be a sponsor.

My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme made a clear speech. The Bill is confined essentially to two substantive clauses. Clause 1 extends the provisions of the 1959 Act to broadcasting and television. I find nothing odd or exceptional about that. Why should we not extend the ordinary provisions of the criminal law to broadcasting and television? It is a mistake to suppose that the ordinary law does not already apply. For example, the Broadcasting Act 1981 applies to the standards that are observed by independent television, as does the licence. There are various direct and indirect methods by which the obligations can be enforced. Moreover, the old common law offence of obscenity most certainly applies to broadcasting.

Ms. Clare Short

Why has there never been a prosecution based on the common law offence of obscenity?

Mr. Hogg

To a large extent, that common law offence has been supplanted by the 1959 Act. Secondly, it is an extremely unattractive offence because it is couched in old-fashioned language and stems from a decision that was taken in the middle of the previous century. Speaking for myself and the Conservative party, we like up-to-date legislation rather than relying on judgments made 130 or 140 years ago. The law already applies to broadcasting and television.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the Broadcasting Act 1981. He will be aware that it contains a remedy for viewers who feel that the IBA has fallen down on its obligation to maintain certain standards as it provides that a viewer or viewers can go to the courts and seek judical review. The Home Secretary has powers to throw people off the IBA and to issue orders bearing on the type of material that shall not be shown. Have any of these routes been used? If they have not, why not? Does the hon. Gentleman happen to know why his hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill), who mentioned two Channel 4 programmes, did not seek to use these routes to get the two programmes dealt with?

Mr. Hogg

There are a number of ways in which the 1981 obligations can be enforced. First, we must consider the narrowness of the general obligation under the Act. The obligation is not to publish or broadcast anything which offends against good taste or decency. That obligation is frequently broken. Those who listen to their constituents or who watched "Sebastiane" will realise that there have been breaches of the statutory obligation from time to time.

Members of the authority can be dismissed by Parliament. However, that is a draconian ultimate sanction to wish to invoke whenever there is a breach of the obligation, I am sure that the House would not like to see the sanction invoked too often, because it would undoubtedly diminish the ability of broadcasting authorities to broadcast what they think is desirable.

The remedy of judicial review has been invoked, not least by Mrs. Whitehouse. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) will know from his legal experience and his shadow Home Office responsibilities, that is a narrow remedy and does not apply to most cases. We have to understand that the broadcasting authorities are already subject to statutory obligations. The IBA must not broadcast material that offends good taste and decency, and the BBC has a duty under its licence. There is nothing offensive in principle in extending the ordinary criminal law to the broadcasting authorities.

However, there are two provisos. The first is that the defence of public interest, contained in section 4 of the 1959 Act, must apply to the extension of the law. Secondly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme said, prosecutions will be able to be brought only with the consent of the DPP, which will prevent a wanton abuse of the proceedings of the courts.

Extending the criminal law to broadcasting would bring more certainty and more consideration to what appears on television. It is good for people to realise that their actions may be judged in court if they are seriously offensive.

The second aspect of the Bill is clause 2, which I regard as an important provision. The 1959 Act provides that what tends to deprave and corrupt is obscene. That has proved a difficult test to apply, because one is dealing with the effect of what is published and not with its nature. It has been difficult for juries, publishers and everyone else to know whether an action is within or without the law.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Surely the effect rather than the nature is the important aspect. Will the hon. Gentleman consider some of the items in clause 2? For example, if vicious cruelty is depicted in a public place it can have a beneficial effect because it causes revulsion and disgust among those who see it. At other times, it can have a detrimental effect. Surely the effect, rather than the nature, is the important matter.

Mr. Hogg

That is an interesting and tenable view, but I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is difficult to be certain about effects. We all have gut reactions and our own beliefs and scientific inquiries into the effect of pornography and violence suggest that there is a causal connection between violence on television and the commission of violent offences. However, I accept that that connection has not been certainly established; there is doubt about the nature of the effect.

More to the point, I believe that society is entitled to say that certain matters are so offensive that they should not be published, even if we cannot establish that they have a prejudicial effect. That has been the purpose of Parliament in many other Acts. For example, some of the Post Office legislation prevents the sending through the post of distasteful material, and the Broadcasting Act 1981 prohibits the publication of material that is distasteful or offensive to good taste. That prohibition does not depend on effect. It merely says that something should riot be published.

Ms. Clare Short

A jury decides whether it is distasteful.

Mr. Hogg

When there is a jury remedy, that is true, and that is what we are asking for in the Bill. I am glad to have the hon. Member's welcome of the point that I was making.

Under the 1959 Act it is difficult to know the acceptable parameters for what may be published. When I started at the Bar, I had to read material with a view to granting a certificate saying whether it was or was not obscene. The decision of an insurance company whether to cover a magazine depended on whether the certificate was issued.

I contacted the DPP to ask what was acceptable at that time. I received a courteous reply, but it did not help me one little bit. I had the embarrassing experience of going to publishers week after week with a jeweller's glass. We put on the table coloured photographs of various scenes and acts and had to peer through the jeweller's glass to discover how much we could or could not see. A sort of inch rule applied in those matters. The plain fact is that under the 1959 Act nobody really knows what is permissible.

The useful aspect of the Bill is that it says that a category of matters, published in certain ways or broadcast, are deemed to be obscene. Hon. Members should look at the list in clause 2. No one could say that the acts contained in that list are particularly attractive or have many obvious virtues.

As the hon. Member for Paisley, South has left the Chamber, I am entitled to read part of the list: acts of masturbation, sodomy, oral/genital connection, oral/anal connection". What possible merit is there in the publication of such material in a public place?

I greatly welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme said about the amendments that he would move in Committee, because several Labour Members have said to me that some medical and educational work and, no doubt, some related work portrays such activities and I am prepared to accept that such works should be excluded, as happened in the video nasties Bill. I also welcome what my hon. Friend said about news reporting.

Ms. Clare Short

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that nothing in the Bill would prevent the full act of sexual intercourse being shown on television? That is the misfortune of this sort of approach. Suggestive heterosexual sexuality that goes over the top and is shown on television in front of children is what most families find objectionable. But such scenes are not touched by the Bill.

Mr. Hogg

That was a perfectly proper intervention. The ordinary act of heterosexual sexual intercourse is not one of the acts prohibited by clause 2. However, it would be subject to the procedure under the 1959 Act, subject to the proviso of a public interest defence.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

But are not the other acts in the list in clause 2 also subject to those controls?

Mr. Hogg

Yes, they are. However, the hon. Gentleman has not grasped the argument. The difficulty is to know exactly what publishers may or may not do. The concept of depraving and corrupting, as the basis of a prosecution, is an inchoate concept. The great advantage of listing acts is that people know what raises a presumption of obscenity.

Mr. Chris Smith

I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument closely. I do not feel that he has yet answered the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short). The hon. Gentleman is stressing the difficulty of precise definition within the existing definitions of what is depraved and corrupt. Will the hon. Gentleman consider the difficulty involved in precise definition, with which even the list in clause 2 lands us? For example, when is an exhibition lewd? When is cruelty vicious? Will not those qualifications lead to as much difficulty as the present definitions?

Mr. Hogg

That is a perfectly fair point. I am troubled about the definition of vicious cruelty for much the same reasons as the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) has mentioned. That aspect of prohibited acts should be taken into account in Committee. In the end, these are matters for a jury to determine. Over a period, guidance will be given through court decisions. All we can do now is try to define those acts that raise the presumption of obscenity.

As I understand it, the list of prohibited acts merely raises a presumption of obscenity. It is still open to the publisher or broadcaster to rely on a section 4 defence.

Ms. Clare Short

Reference has been made to this point on a number of occasions. Hon. Members have said that, given that there is a section 4 defence, no one who has good intentions in publishing something will be affected. But that involves those individuals in being dragged through the courts, thereby necessarily incurring the expense, and suffering the discomfort, involved in such a trial. That is very serious.

Mr. Hogg

Of course it is. I think that the hon. Member for Ladywood is making one of the basic mistakes that libertarians make too frequently. They speak of rights and entitlement without taking account of obligations. If people want to publish acts of masturbation, sodomy, oral/genital connection I shall not cry too much if they are taken to the courts and have to prove that they have a defence under section 4.

Mr. Fairbairn

Does my hon. Friend understand also that what is called "dragging" through the courts—I understand that that is the process of fiendish justice prescribed by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short)—results, as we saw in the case of "Lady Chatterley's Lover" and "Fanny Hill", in a fortune for the publisher if he is acquitted?

Mr. Hogg

That is undoubtedly true. Many aspects of the criminal law have a disadvantageous as well as an advantageous effect. We must look at this matter in the broad. I do not believe that those people who publish or print material listed in clause 2 have much right to complain—they will not get much sympathy from me—if they are taken to court and prosecuted.

Ms. Clare Short

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hogg

As the hon. Lady is so appealing, I give way.

Ms. Short

There is a grave inconsistency in the hon. Gentleman's argument. He described at some length how unsatisfactory the present situation is, because people planning to produce pornography might be uncertain about whether it is legal. I do not have much concern for those who make their money from producing pornography. The hon. Gentleman then dismissed the possible concern of people who produce educational or scientific material.

Mr. Hogg

The hon. Lady does me less than justice. I am sure that she does not mean to do so. She will recall that I intervened during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme suggesting that there was a specific need to exempt from the prohibited acts material that was published for scientific, medical or educational purposes. My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme volunteered the news about broadcasters being subject to the law with respect to obscenity and indecency.

I have detained the House long enough, partly because of interventions, and I apologise. I welcome the Bill. It is a small and useful step forward. I hope that hon. Members who oppose it will appreciate that the points they are making are either Committee points—they are not wrong, but need to be discussed elsewhere—or are based on the premise that, as this is not a comprehensive measure, it should not be passed. I feel that that is an error of judgment.

11.45 am
Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) on coming so high in the ballot and on producing a Bill for the protection of children. He rightly said that protecting children is one of the primary obligations of the House.

It is interesting that the titles of the first two Bills on today's Order Paper refer to the protection of children. We have met that phrase before in other contexts, and that highly emotive phrase demands some explanation. The protection of children can come about in a variety of ways. I believe that in the last two Sessions that phrase—I hope that I do not do an injustice to those who use it—has been designed to deceive people into believing that children in alleged danger from exhibitions of violence and television programmes need to be protected.

The Bill is sponsored by hon. Members on both sides of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) said that he supports the Bill. I therefore assume that there is broad agreement among the Bill's sponsors about protecting children from the evils of obscenity and violence on television and radio, and as seen in bookshops and cinemas. They are exceptional aims. I accept that. I hope that no one misunderstands those who oppose the Bill. We are concerned about the problems that it seeks to tackle.

The House has had a duty in the past century to protect the younger generation in whatever ways seemed desirable and preferable. In that context, the Bill's aims are thoroughly defensible. However, in my view, they are miles away from tackling the real problems, difficulties and dangers affecting our young children. The Bill refers to young people under 18. That must mean those who leave school at 15 or 16 and do not get a job. They may take drugs or become homeless because of the Government's deliberate policies. Do they not need protection? Those are much more important problems for the House to tackle than the one that we are considering. The hon. Member for Davyhulme has concluded that this matter is more important than others. He is entitled to that choice, but he must accept that we are entitled to criticise him for it.

The Guardian of 22 January quoted Lord Tonypandy, the much respected former Speaker, who is now chairman of the National Children's Home, and referred to the NCH's annual report. Lord Tonypandy said: In many areas the problems facing thousands of children in Britain are getting worse. If we are prepared to let this trend continue then undoubtedly the situation will get worse still and our children will pay the price. The annual report said: 100,000 children are in care or subject to supervision orders; a third of all 13 to 16-year-olds drink alcohol every week and more than 5,000 children are charged with drunkenness every year. Drug addiction among under-21s, officially registered as addicts, has quadrupled in five years. The House would be much more profitably occupied dealing with problems like that than in dealing with this one. That is not to say the problem now being discussed is not serious, of course it is, but I remain to be convinced that legislation such as this will have any effect on the reduction of crime, drug addiction or violence. The exposure of children to television violence has had only a marginal effect on the increase in crime over many years.

Mr. Cash

Much of what the hon. Gentleman says is in its own way important, but will he accept my contention that it has less to do with the Bill and more to do with preventing the next business from coming forward?

Mr. Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman knows that hon. Members have all kinds of motivations. I do not like the next Bill any more than I like this one, and I shall do what I can to stop both of them. That is part of my duty, to do what I think, to accept legislation that I like, and to try to defeat legislation that I do not like. I do not like this Bill or the next one. and I shall do my duty to see that neither of them comes on to the statute book. I need make no apology for that attitude.

The basic purpose of the Bill is to widen the scope of the Obscene Publications Acts of 1959 and 1964 by, as the hon. Gentleman says, bringing radio and television within their ambit for the first time. The hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) says that that is a jolly good thing. I am not saying no to that, but I am anxious about whether it will be effective. The hon. Member for Grantham, or perhaps it was the hon. Member for Davyhulme, said that when people went to a cinema they did that by choice, but with television they have no choice. Of course they have a choice. Parents have a button at their disposal. To pretend that children will be denied access to these things by the provisions of this Bill is nonsense. They will have access if they want it.

Mr. Churchill

The words quoted were not mine, but were contained in a BBC publication. That is the view of the BBC, not my view.

Mr. Hamilton

That may well be, but it does not make it any more right. The Bill will not materially affect in a positive way the problems that we are discussing.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

Has the hon. Gentleman ever raised the view that he is expressing to the House with the people employed in the prison medical service? He may be aware that the Select Committee on Social Services is investigating the prison medical service. If he had an opportunity to be on that Committee and to raise this issue with doctors and psychiatrists employed by the prison medical service, he would be left in no doubt that there is a link between violence on television and mindless violence in our society today. Many members of the prison medical service say that it has anaesthetised young people to the effects of violence until it is too late.

Mr. Hamilton

There are widely held views about the evidence available. There is no unanimity on these matters. Some people adhere to the view that it has an effect on children, but that is extremely difficult to prove. I should like to know whether the Home Office has any convincing statistical evidence. I suggest that it is impossible to get such evidence, one way or the other. It is a matter of personal opinion.

In an intervention, the hon. Member for Grantham talked about the effects of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman is a lawyer and one of the sponsors of the Bill. His interjection indicated that he sponsored the Bill knowing its deficiencies, but perhaps he did not know them.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

I plead guilty to this. When l saw the Bill I did not take fully into account the point made by the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs), who outside the Chamber made one or two cogent points to me which seemed to be right. That is why I made my intervention.

Mr. Hamilton

It is interesting that a skilled lawyer should sponsor a Bill that has such serious deficiencies. Obviously he has not read it. The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash), who is also a lawyer, referred in an intervention to the Director of Public Prosecutions. He has obviously not read the Bill either or he would not have made his intervention. The point that I made earlier is worth repeating. A ban on the depiction of vicious cruelty could prevent the showing of many films of an educational nature. I am worried about cruelty to animals, and I am part of the campaign for an amendment and a modernisation of the 1876 legislation. Under the Bill as it stands, certain films will be precluded from television.

Mr. Churchill


Mr. Hamilton

The legal advice that we have received is that some films could be the subject of a prosecution under clause 2.

Mr. Lawrence

I have listened with great care to the observations of the hon. Gentleman. It is perfectly true that there are substantial deficiencies in the drafting of this Bill. Is the hon. Gentleman content to allow the continuation of publications, whether in magazines or on television, which show acts of masturbation, sodomy, oral/genital connection, oral/anal connection, the lewd exhibition of genital organs or excretary functions, cannibalism, bestiality, mutilation or vicious cruelty"? Is it not desirable that the Bill should go through the House and, with its necessary amendments, find its way on to the statute book? Is not the consequence of objection to the bill that acts of this kind will continue to be depicted in magazines on sale in newsagents shops and on television screens and bring suffering to our children? Surely the hon. Gentleman cannot support any of that.

Mr. Hamilton

I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman's view, but I will not be lectured to by Government Members. All the things that the hon. and learned Gentleman is talking about are the consequences of what Conservatives call the magic of the market. There is a market for those things. Every Conservative Member, without exception, says that one must not interfere with profit-making and the magic of the market. Those things would not be produced unless the producers knew that they could be sold for profit. That is the counter-argument to what the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. There is nothing to stop these things from being produced on the continent and smuggled in. That is one of the problems that we face, and with which the Bill cannot deal.

Mr. Dickens

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if somebody makes a profit out of the magazines and television programmes which we are seeking to ban—that is, the hard pornographic material—it is possibly at the expense of the children? That is why, today, we earnestly want the legislation to go through, as a start to rolling back the frontiers. We really need it as a start.

Mr. Hamilton

I find some of these interventions nauseating, coming as they do from particular quarters in the House. I shall say something about that later, but I do not want to personalise the case too much.

Mr. Cohen

Before the interventions by Conservative Members, my hon. Friend was making an excellent point about cruelty to animals. Does he acknowledge that the Bill includes in the list in clause 2(1) mutilation or vicious cruelty towards persons or animals"? Such cruelty will be banned from being shown. Does my hon. Friend agree that that will stop all the animal rights campaigns, which deliberately depict such acts of cruelty to build up public support and shock the public so that such activities can be banned?

Mr. Hamilton

That is right. We are all aware that almost every week we receive magazines in the mail showing the fiercest cruelty towards animals, produced by the people who want to reform the legislation on experiments on animals. I am not sure whether that would be illegal under the Bill.

I should like to refer to the Home Secretary himself. He has written novels with considerable violence in them. I have not read them, but I have read reviews. I understand that they are likely to be filmed. I should be interested to hear what the Parliamentary Under-Secretary has to say about that. Will those novels be caught by the legislation? Of course they will if they show vicious cruelty towards persons or animals". The Home Secretary had better watch himself. We have had one resignation, and another pending, perhaps two. Then there will be another.

The more I look at the Bill, the more I am astounded that so many lawyers support it, except that the language is so vague and so incapable of definition that it will be a goldmine for the lawyers. That is why many of them are sponsors, I suspect.

Much of the erotic and violent pictorial material apparently would be confined to places to which persons under 18 do not have access, such as licensed sex shops and private clubs. There are many private clubs, mostly Tory, which engage in such activities. However, what can stop adults from passing on the material? That is one of the problems. We cannot legislate on how adults deal with their children when they are watching television, or on passing on erotic material to their children.

My overall objection to the Bill is that it would be unworkable and would greatly extend censorship. I speak as an individual. I do not want anybody to tell me by legislation, or in any other way, how to deal with my children or what I should read or look at. There are many do-gooders telling me what is good for me and my children. I do not want that. The more individual freedom there is, the better. I shall be the judge, for good or ill, of what is good for me. I do not want anybody to tell me what is good for me and my family.

Mr. Lawrence

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's assertion that he does not need anybody to tell him what he and his family may do. Why did he support the Government's decision to put fluoride in water, on the basis that unless it was done people would not protect their children's interests?

Mr. Hamilton

The hon. and learned Gentleman is a very persistent man on this matter. He was roundly defeated on free votes. I think that his party had the Whips on. He knows very well that that is a diversion, and I do not want to detain the House.

Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)

Am I right in thinking that fluoride is an aphrodisiac?

Mr. Hamilton

I would not know that. In any case, the Bill was passed and fluoride occurs naturally in many parts of the world. It does no harm and there is much evidence to suggest that it does a lot of good. However, it has nothing whatever to do with obscenity or publication.

If the Bill is enacted, the magazine Penthouse, which I do not read, but it might be in the porn cupboard in the Library—

Mrs. Dunwoody

Nobody reads it.

Mr. Hamilton

Years ago we used to have a porn cupboard in the Library. It was kept under lock and key and those who wanted a read had to get the key, which immediately identified them. Many Tory Members said, "Well, in the course of my duty, I have to read that book." I do not know whether the cupboard is still there. Somebody might go and find out. Penthouse is on sale throughout Europe and the Bill would make it illegal.

Mr. Churchill

No, it would not.

Mr. Hamilton

It would cease to be on sale publicly.

Mr. Churchill


Mr. Hamilton

The ban would cover the serious treatment of manifold sexual problems. It would encompass sex education. I suspect that many Conservative Members dislike the idea of sex education in schools. Many people try to stop it because it is open to abuse, and so it is, but that is no reason why parents, schools, television and radio should not attempt to tackle such problems sensibly.

The war in Vietnam has been mentioned. The hon. Member for Davyhulme said that if the events covered are real it cannot be unacceptable to show them, that if it is a real war it does not count in terms of the Bill. Real war is more obscene than anything that can be invented. The film "The War Game" was a pale attempt which tried to convince people of what nuclear war would be like, but many people tried to stop it getting on to our screens.

The violence against millions of children in Africa is obscene. It has aroused a multitude of people, but the Bill will not stop that obscenity. The Bill deals with what is shown rather than with why it is shown. A whole range of things should be shown, although they might disturb millions of people.

Finally, I come to the wretched clause 2, which the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) called in aid. I have neither seen nor wish to see its list of exhibitions, but some, such as masturbation, are perfectly normal activities, especially in public schools. Apparently it is to be illegal only if one takes a picture of it.

When I look at the Tory Benches, I see the hon. Member for Davyhulme, who is well known for his sturdy defence of morality and our standards of behaviour, and others like him, but when Tory Members lecture us on those matters it makes us angry and nauseated. I have seen many Bills produced by Tory Members on similar issues. They try to convince our people that the Tory party stands for morality, good behaviour and high standards. Yet there are more rogues on those Benches than in Brixton prison. Nevertheless, they preach to the House and to the country that if those matters were left in their hands everyone would behave, the country would he marvellous and the crime figures would decrease. By God, save the British people from the Tory party.

12.11 pm
Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) in his final diatribe attempted to uphold the strange principle of Opposition Members by saying that masturbation was a normal function and only wrong if one took pictures of it. Excretion is also a normal function, and, indeed, an inevitable one, but it is not something that anyone wishes to see anyone else doing. It should be done in private and not publicised.

The hypocrisy of Opposition Members that I find most offensive is that, while they want to take the credit for alleging that they object to what is shown on television for its effect on children and adults, they wish to adopt the concept of Socrates that, because the Republic is incapable of discovering philosopher kings of sufficient wisdom to draft a Bill that is not in some form defective, there should be no Bill. If they were honest, they would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill), to whom I give the greatest credit for introducing the Bill, "We have thought of a better Bill".

Ms. Clare Short

I intend to say that in my speech.

Mr. Fairbairn

They do not say that. Instead, they say, "We are all against the Bill", and adopt the intellectual fantasies of the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan). They make remarks that imply that obscenity must be allowed into every living room of every house in the country, and must ride on the back of William Shakespeare because if one shuts out obscenity, one shuts out Shakespeare. That is one of the most false and eternal defences of obscenity which Opposition Members, who pretend to object to it but who do not, constantly advance to torpedo legislation that will inevitably make those who publish and make such articles pause and look about them before they do so.

Mr. Brinton

How does my hon. Friend feel about "Titus Andronicus" by William Shakespeare in which cannibalism is simulated on the stage? What is the difference in terms of the public good between that and some play written by a respectable writer of today? Why should they be different? That is my problem.

Mr. Fairbairn

I can see my hon. Friend's problem. However, all the writings of man, whether "Benjamin Bunny", "Peter Rabbit", "Squirrel Nutkin" or "Titus Andronicus", involve certain acts that might be said to be sadistic. It is the manner of their presentation and the structure of the act within the play or book that is relevant.

I make one structural point. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), I find it astonishing that the obscenity legislation in England did not apply to television long before it applied to anything else. As my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley) correctly said, there is a great difference between visual experience and the experience of reading or hearing. Visual experience requires no intellectual effort to absorb, translate, comprehend or interpret. The literal and auditory experience requires intellectual discipline so that one can understand it.

Mrs. Dunwoody

The hon. and learned Gentleman used the word hypocrisy—a word that lies ill in the mouths of many hon. Members. The hon. and learned Gentleman has made the point that we were making. The present definition of obscenity relies on where the act happens and its context. The hon. and learned Gentleman destroyed the case for the Bill in the answer that he gave to the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Brinton).

Mr. Fairbairn

I do not accept anything that the hon. Lady has said, and if it is not hypocrisy, I do not know what is.

It is important that the House should understand and that the message should go out about one matter. As a Scotsman I regret that it was a Scot who invented both television and the telephone, which are the only two intrusions into private houses that anybody can make without permission. [AN HON. MEMBER: "What about Labour party canvassers?") When Labour party canvassers come to the door, one does not open it. However, television comes into the house and the argument that one can press the button to turn it off is fallacious. In most houses there is only one common living room and if one person wishes to see a programme, say the father or the mother, the children have no say about what is going on in the only room in which they are allowed.

Ms. Clare Short

I agree that many people are disturbed by what is on television and I am also not, in principle, against extending the Obscene Publications Act to television. However, has the hon. and learned Gentleman ever seen on television anything such as that set out in clause 2? I have not. The Bill would not solve the problems.

Mr. Fairbairn

I have seen some things that come under what I think are the most important matters. For many years the concepts of obscenity and sexuality have been inter-confused, which has enabled libertarians of the worst kind to accuse people like me of being puritans. I do not regard obscenity as having much to do with sexuality. The words "mutilation, or vicious cruelty" are the nub of the Bill. That is the most important part of clause 2.

Some years ago, I was involved in the defence of what was said to be one of the foremost notorious homicidal criminals in Scotland, in the case known as the Porterfield riots. One afternoon when, for some reason, my services were not required I went into an Inverness cinema and saw the film "A Clockwork Orange". It was being adulated as frightfully sophisticated, clever and funny. In effect, it was the worst form of manipulated and institutionalised sadism that I had ever seen. It was beaten to the post only by the even more notorious film, which the libertarian critics said was so marvellous, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in which people took it in turn to be sadistic to one another. I went to see these films—

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton

In the course of duty.

Mr. Fairbairn

No, not in the course of duty but in the course of intellectual inquiry into what made the critics regard sadism as glorious. I could have avoided that sadism, but I cannot avoid what is canned into my house every day. It can be turned off, but that is not a realistic proposition. We should not protect only children from seeing that which neutralises all forms of manners and humanity. We should prevent adults from seeing it, too, because eventually the humanity and the equilibrium of adults is neutralised. That is passed on to the child in the form that good and bad are merely opposites in a scale and that they are of equal weight. If one watches television night after night the good and the bad appear one after another in succession. No distinction is made between their excellence and their "execritude". No distinction is made between what is good, bad, glorious, blessed or trivial.

The Bill is at least a start. The reason for the increase in criminality is that society, through television, has come to believe that morality and the love-thy-neighbour-as-thyself concept is a neutral stance, that morals and ethics are neutral. My first lesson in the law when I read jurisprudence was most important: that one's right to sing at the top of one's voice in one's garden contradicts the right of the neighbour to read in silence next door. One right will always impinge upon another right. The duty of this House is to adjust those rights.

One of the rights that this House must adjust is to prevent the younger generation from believing that liberty is licence and that they are not put at risk if they do as they please. We train young people not to touch something or not to go near to a fire, for their own safety. The Bill enshrines and resurrects a principle that for too long has been forgotten: that on our public broadcasting system, which is probably the most influential form of contemporary experience, the principle should be enshrined of doing unto others what we wish they would do unto us.

12.24 pm
Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking)

When I first heard that the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) was to introduce a Bill of this kind, I hoped that it would try seriously to tackle the problem of the image of women that is depicted in magazines and newspapers. I agree that that is a difficult problem to tackle, and no one has yet been able to do so, but when I received the Bill—we have had it for only a week or so—I found that it did not attempt to tackle the issue.

The Bill has gone completely over the top in other areas. It has not tackled the violence, to which I object, that we often see on television. It concentrates on the articles that are listed in clause 2. I have not yet heard from Conservative Members whether they have seen those things on television. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) challenged the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) to say whether he had seen any of those things on television, but he did not answer. I am not a great watcher of television because, like other hon. Members, I do not have time, but if these things do not appear on television, I do not understand why the Bill is necessary.

For my purposes and for the edification of hon. Members, I should like to list some of the provisions for protection which I believe are probably sufficient. The Broadcasting Act 1981 has been mentioned many times. Under the Act, the Independent Broadcasting Authority is required to ensure that nothing is included in the programme which offends against good taste or decency or is likely to encourage or incite to crime or to lead to disorder or to be offensive to public feeling. That is a perfectly comprehensive and sensible definition of what we are trying to tackle today.

The IBA has programme guidelines on sex, nudity, violence, extreme suffering and distress. The BBC is similarly bound by the 1981 licensing agreement. The BBC and the IBA are careful to screen unsuitable programmes after 9 o'clock, or even after 10.30 pm, if they believe that the programme may be of harm to children.

Everyong is talking about the film "Sebastiane". I do not know anything about the film. I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) did not know anything about it either, but every hon. Member appears to have seen it, except us.

Mr. Buchan

They must be corrupt, while we remain pure.

Ms. Richardson

I do not know what the film is about, or how offensive it is.

Apart from all the provisions that are laid down by law, there is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) said, a procedure of appeal through the courts. That procedure is hardly ever needed, because of the diligence of the broadcasters in dealing with the matter. There are also the Indecent Displays (Control Act 1981 and the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, which restrict the significant sale of sexual material to licensees and the over-18s. By 1 October of this year all videos on display will carry one of the four British Board of Film Classification's categories that are applied to the cinema.

Mr. Fairbairn

The argument of Opposition Members is that the Bill will not work. The legislation mentioned by the hon. Lady significantly does not work. Does she consider that the Opposition should take the advice which the grandfather of the promoter of the Bill gave to those who said that the Mulberry harbour would not work—do not argue the difficulties; the difficulties will argue for themselves?

Ms. Richardson

I do not understand the point made by the hon. and learned Gentleman. It is a little too obscure for me.

With all the provisions that we have, the Bill is unnecessary. If it goes through, even amended, I am not sure whether it will do the job that the hon. Gentleman intends. I do not doubt his good intentions. I am sure that he believes that television, newspapers and magazines need cleaning up and that our children need protection, as we all do, but I fail to see how the Bill will do it.

Although the Bill adds broadcast material to the purview of the Obscene Publications Act, it also seems to bypass the Act. At present, obscenity must tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it". Obscenity is determined in terms of effect, but for the first time the Bill lists a variety of acts which, no matter what the circumstances, are deemed to be obscene if seen by a young person.

That laundry list—if I may call it that—has been borrowed from the United States, where the legislation states that the act must be patently offensive. The word "patently" is not included in the Bill. It provides no such let-off. Do not the hon. Gentleman and other Conservative Members agree that what is acceptable or unacceptable changes constantly? If all of us reflect on our lifetimes, we can see those changes. What we would have accepted as immoral 10 years ago may be seen in a different light now. It is wrong to deal with the problem by tacking a constant string of short Acts on to the end of the original Act, because the result will be a hotchpotch that will satisfy no one. Indeed, it will only provde a field day for the lawyers.

The list of acts in clause 2 put the fear of God into me when I first read it. Indeed, I am sure that it sent shivers down all our spines. I deplore mutilation or vicious cruelty towards animals. That is why I deplore Government scientists firing bullets into monkey's skulls. The public have been exposed to that largely through pictures. Public perceptions are formed by seeing pictures of animals being treated violently. They bring home to the public what is happening to the poor animals.

Some hon. Members have mentioned the Vietnam war. It would not be stretching matters too far to say that the atrocities shown in pictures of the Vietnam war helped to bring it to an end.

Ms. Clare Short

I understand from press reports that Mrs. Mary Whitehouse had something to do with the drafting of the Bill, although the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) said that she was not entirely happy with it and would have liked it to go further, I remember reading that she argued that we should restrict the reporting on television of wars such as the Vietnam war because that led to resistance in the United States to the Vietnam war. Is that not a dangerous argument for restricting publication?

Ms. Richardson

Absolutely. It was the depiction of the famine in Ethiopia which started everybody saying, "My God, we must help. We must send money and materials." If moralists such as Mrs. Mary Whitehouse lay down for us what we should be looking at, goodness knows who will suffer throughout the world in all sorts of different directions.

Mr. Buchan

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again. She seems to have slipped into the same problem. I am beginning to be irritated with the suggestion from some Conservative Members that we are the libertarians and that somehow they are the moralists. I deny both. There is a great difference betwen talking about freedom of speech and other things and those who practise libertarianism, which we never hear about, and I resent it. It is because I take a fairly strong moral stance on the question that I recognise the flaws in the Bill.

Ms. Richardson

I welcome what my hon. Fiend says.

Let me deal with the effect of television violence and the idea that it necessarily means that it causes young people to behave violently.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Is my hon. Friend aware that during the Falklands war, and indeed many other wars in which British Governments have been involved, the Government quickly resorted to censorship to prevent people in Britain and elsewhere seeing the horror and effects of violence? Indeed, there is censorship in south America and other places at the moment to prevent people from discovering the horrors of the violence that is being committed.

Ms. Richardson

I agree. The hon. Member for Davyhulme did not deny that, and he was a war correspondent. He recognised that there is merit in war correspondents and photographers coming back with information. Those are things that people should see.

Research is inconclusive on whether what is responsible for violence in youngsters comes from videos or television. In the long term exposure dulls the senses, but scientists disagree on whether exposure makes a person violent. The Bill leaves alone the less glamorous long-term violence. A distinguished American doctor called William Belson provided the best evidence of such a trend. Yet even he was mystified by the quirk that those watching the most violence on television were most likely to act less violently.

Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)

Is not my hon. Friend in effect saying that the cause of the problem is definitely multifactorial and something about which we know comparatively little? If we go ahead in this piecemeal way, we could make the situation worse.

Ms. Richardson

That is the point that I am trying to come to.

After two and half years of deliberation, the Williams committee rejected any statistical evidence that pornography led to violence against women. I emphasise. the word "statistical". It also added that pornography was likely to reinforce the taste of the viewer or reader, and that if those tastes were deviant that might be dangerous for society. Therefore, all sorts of standards are set.

I wecome the fact that the hon. Member for Davyhulme is trying to do something about depicting sex, but the Bill will not solve the problem, as I see it. He has not tackled the whole question of the sexually passive presentation of women which is thrown at us all the time and which does more harm to how people view women and women's independence than what we are considering. Some hon. Members have referred to the words in clause 2. I find the many references to the anus in that clause, indirectly or by name, almost obsessive. In many respects that can be seen as a thinly disguised attack on any visual depiction of a homosexual relationship. That is what those words could lead to. It could become an example of gay bashing, in which I do not think the House would want to involve itself. It might feed the prejudice against gays and lesbians which exists and which some of us are trying to eradicate because gays and lesbians should be treated as the ordinary people that they are.

There are two films on in London—I do not know whether they are on elsewhere. I have not seen them, but members of my family have and I am told that they are very good. One of the films is called "My Beautiful Launderette" and the other is called "The Kiss of the Spiderwoman". Both films are available to people over 15, and they try to promote some understanding of what it is like to be gay. I understand that the films are very popular. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Davyhulme has seen them, but I should like to know whether such films will fall under the Bill if it becomes an Act.

Mr. Buchan

The hon. Gentleman does not know.

Ms. Richardson

If the hon. Gentleman does not know, that makes it even worse, because I like to know what legislation we are passing in the House, and I like to know that the public understand.

The hon. Gentleman has said that he is prepared to accept an amendment which would exclude such things as sex education. I am glad to hear that, and I am sure that many organisations and individuals outside will also be glad. However, it might not be easy to draft an amendment for that, because there are many worthy organisations and individuals who have written good material for different groups of people.

I should like to know whether the hon. Member for Davyhulme intends the Bill to cover material concerned with pregnancy or abortion as part of sex education. The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head. I do not know what that means. The book entitled "The Pregnancy Book", which is published by the Health Education Council, would presumably be excluded. There are some extremely good but explicit photographs which some people might find disturbing and some might even classify, in some senses, as obscene.

Mr. Churchill

I draw the attention of the hon. Lady to section 4 of the main Act, "Defence of public good," which says that any items, whether RSPCA films or sex education, are excluded if it is in the interests of science, literature, art or learning, or of other objects of general concern. I am planning to go further and specifically exempt those items from the application of clause 2.

Mr. Buchan

Who decides what is to be excluded?

Ms. Richardson

That is precisely my point. The section of the Act to which the hon. Gentleman referred could exclude many things, or include many things, but it does not list the items.

Mr. Chris Smith

A specific example is material relating to the dangers of the disease known as AIDS and the way in which that can be avoided, especially by those who engage in homosexual relationships. Perhaps my hon. Friend will consider the "Horizon" programme which was directed to that issue, which has been withdrawn from television because of the explicit nature of some of the scenes in it.

Ms. Richardson

I did not see that "Horizon" programme, but I take my hon. Friend's point. There are many who are extremely concerned about AIDS and it is an issue which needs careful and sensitive handling if we are to educate people so that they do not contract the disease.

I have seen the expressions of shock and horror on the faces of Conservative Members when masturbation has been mentioned. A document has been produced for the mentally handicapped entitled "Sexuality and the Mentally Handicapped". It is the work of a distinguished writer and it is educational. How can we be sure that such publications, which are designed specifically for those under 18 years of age in most instances, will not come within the terms of the Bill?

Mr. Buchan

The Bill's provisions are changing all the time.

Mr. Mikardo

It is good that the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) has said that he envisages certain changes being made in the later stages of the Bill's passage through the House, which means in Committee and on Report. Of course, he will have no control of that process. When the Bill is in Committee, he will have only one vote. The members of the Committee will pay attention to what he says, as he is the promoter of the Bill, but he cannot guarantee that any of the amendments which have been suggested, and which he says he will accept, will be made.

Ms. Richardson

That is right. As my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South said in a sedentary interjection, the Bill is becoming a different measure from the one which we began to consider at half-past nine this morning. This is a manifestation of the difficulty of dealing with such a subject.

The provisions on access seemed at first to be good, but then I became rather worried. How many Members can tell the difference at a glance between a 17-year-old and an 18-year-old? I suspect that practically none of us can do so. When we describe a young woman or a young man, we often say that he or she is about 17 or 18 years old, or we describe them as late teenagers. We know that children have access to videos, television, radio, cable television and books. In theory and in practice, everybody has access to everything. However, the Bill does not attack those who provide access for young people. The Bill refers specifically to young people, and not to those who make material available to them. At least, that is how I read the Bill. This is another subject for amendments.

A young person who is on a YTS course and under 18 years of age might find himself or herself at a publishing house. This young person might be helping to edit a film. It could be a sex education film or a film of a different nature. He, or she, will be exposed to that which the Bill says young people should not be exposed to—

Ms. Clare Short

As I read the Bill, it provides that a young person under 18 years of age need not have any engagement with such material. However, if a young person works for a publisher, he or she could have access to the sort of material to which the Bill is directed. That would be instantly illegal even though the material had been designed carefully for an adult audience.

Ms. Richardson

Absolutely. Are we to say that someone on a YTS course, who is supposed to stick with the course, should leave? He would not be able to claim supplementary benefit if he did so.

The Bill is studded with difficulties and fraught with problems. We ought to think again. In the past two or three weeks I have changed my mind three times about whether to support the Bill. That is not because I am an indecisive person, but because the subject is so difficult. I have decided, on balance, to vote against the Bill.

The Williams committee said of the law on obscenity: the law, in short, is a mess. I do not believe that the Bill, even if it is amended in Committee, will clear up that mess. It will merely turn the mess into a heap of rubbish.

12.50 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

I start by referring to the words of Edmund Burke who said in his Bristol constituency 400 years ago: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Today, we have a good man—my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill)—who is prepared to do something. The Bill may not be perfection or everything that we want, but it is certainly a step in the right direction of controlling the filth on bookshelves and the filth that comes into people's homes.

Hon. Members should remember that people often do not suspect that the filth is coming into their homes. They switch on a programme and do not know that the contents will be explicit. Suddenly, they are faced with a scene that embarrasses them, their in-laws and certainly their children if they are in the room. [Interruption.] We are witnessing another barrage from the Opposition. It is easy for them. Whenever we put through such legislation from the Conservative Benches we expect a barrage from the Opposition. It is despicable.

I remind the Opposition that Back-Bench power alone has put through some important legislation and amendments to legislation in recent years. The Obscene Publications Act 1959 was a Back-Bench measure. Acts on the protection of children, the control of indecent displays, the control of video nasties and, more recently, the control of kerb crawling were all Back-Bench measures. Good people felt that they wanted to do something to pull the reins.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said that bookshop owners in her constituency were in a dilemma and were pleased to put magazines on high shelves, out of the reach of children. That is nonsense, because those magazines have been put out of children's reach and the covers have been improved because a Back-Bench Member pushed through an Act to control indecent displays. That is the only reason.

We are not after magazines such as "Mayfair" and "Penthouse". We would be prudes and stick-in-the-muds and we would not reflect public opinion absolutely if we did that—although many people wish to see even that sort of magazine disappear.

Some serious explicit material is appearing on the grubby shelves of book shops. The police say, "We find it almost impossible to bring a prosecution, but from time to time we swoop in and confiscate." That goes on in shop after shop and district after district. We see the charade of confiscation, but it does not control publication.

Under the Bill, however imperfect it may be or however inadequate the Opposition may think it, the police will be allowed to bring prosecutions if that sort of explicit material appears on bookshelves.

The obscene publications legislation came into being more than 25 years ago, in 1959, but we now live in a different world. It is common knowledge that reception teachers in primary schools say that the little five-year-olds were the loveliest children to teach—they always did as they were told, always paid attention and always wanted to please—but five-year-olds now come to school as angry, often undisciplined, little people. One can see a link, therefore, between what children see on television and their general behaviour.

To say that these programmes are put on late at night is not an excuse. In this day and age, almost every home has a television, whatever else it goes without, because television provides a wonderful form of entertainment. In some homes, children have television in their rooms. In some homes, when mummy and daddy are out and the babysitter is in, the children creep downstairs to watch late night programmes.

If one cannot control viewing by little children, one must control the broadcasts that they might see. We do not want to be stick-in-the-muds—we want to stop the filth and degrading material that has been described in the debate. We are protecting children. [Interruption.] The Opposition can make as much fun of me as they like. They have done so for many years on this subject.

Mr. Brinton

My hon. Friend has asserted that many families allow children to creep down the stairs late at night to switch on the television set. What is the basis of that assertion? Does my hon. Friend have statistics?

Mr. Dickens

My hon. Friend was a former newsreader and is still very much connected with the television profession, so I recognise his motives. If television companies are pleased to tell potential advertisers that a 16-second advertisement can reap wonderful benefits in terms of sales—so persuasive are the advertisements going into the lounges of families— how can we and those companies, with hands on hearts, deny that children are not influenced by the material that comes into their homes, even if those children have not reached the reading and writing stage? The children can see what is happening. They associate it with their family, with what mummy and daddy might do.

This is an important issue. The television companies cannot have it both ways. The BBC is as guilty as the IBA in a sense. The BBC advertises in the Radio Times, uses theme music to advertise its films and publishes cookery, books, and so on. The BBC knows the value of advertisements going into the homes, just as the IBA does. I do not single out the IBA.

The Opposition have been crafty. They know jolly well that parents and grandparents are angry and upset about child abuse and the material that influences children. Hon. Members know that if they say, "Although we are interested in the legislation, we shall vote against it, because it does not go far enough", that clears them with the parents in their constituencies. It does not clear them with people like me. I notice the hon. Members who try time after time to defeat decency. Many of them are sitting there looking at me.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

I am a supporter of the Bill. I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman a question that to some extent might enable him to appreciate why there have been a number of sedentary interventions from my hon. Friends. Will he tell the House on what basis he was able to build a reputation as a pontificator on public morality?

Mr. Dickens

Some of the subjects that we are debating are very unsavoury and are not the sort of thing that is nice for the people in the Strangers' Gallery or the BBC or other hon. Members to hear, but such things have to be said because we are debating an important matter.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Answer the question.

Mr. Dickens

The answer is that I have taken it upon myself. Hon. Members will remember that in this House I named a titled diplomat who was involved in child pornography and I got a rough time afterwards. Letters and petitions came pouring in to me and as a result many people were prosecuted. People write to me because they have depended on me for years.

The main thrust of my argument is that this Bill, despite its imperfections and despite improvements that we can all make to it in Committee, is certainly another step in the right direction by Back Benchers who are trying to check the slide in morality, who are trying to maintain standards in the United Kingdom and further to protect our children. Public opinion demands that hon. Members, like my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme, should put forward matters for legislation that they feel is necessary. That is exactly the purpose of this Bill, and shame on any hon. Member who votes against it.

1.2 pm

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

So far this has been a reasonable debate, and I shall try to continue it in this way. I congratulate the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) on his success in the ballot. I say that with some feeling, because I was lucky enough to do the same thing some years ago. I also thank him for the opportunity he has provided for the House to discuss these important matters.

As the hon. Gentleman said when he opened the debate, the background to this Bill is that Britain has become a much more violent place. Since 1979, there has been a rise of two thirds in offences of violence against the person, and over the same period there has been a two thirds increase to 500,000 in offences of criminal damage. All hon. Members, irrespective of their views about the Bill, and especially those of us who are privileged to be parents, must be alarmed by these trends.

The Bill deals with the protection of children. The prime responsibility for the protection of children rests firmly and squarely with parents, not with this House nor, indeed, with Ministers. In a modern society, just as parents quite properly make decisions about the food that children eat, the clothes that they wear, the schools that they attend, the books and publications that they read and the television and video programmes that they watch and hear, so should they also have the major, overriding responsibility for guiding their children about watching television.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks) made the valid point that perhaps those of us who are no longer children need to ask more questions about the impact of television on young minds and young lives.

My distinguished hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) was absolutely right to remind the House of the "Children Today" report published by the National Children's Home early this week, which shows the desperate, urgent need for better protection to be given to many of our children. A total of 100,000 children are in care or subject to supervision orders, one quarter of a million young people a year go before our courts or are cautioned, 5,000 are charged with drunkenness, every year, in London alone, 400 people under 18 disappear — vanish— and thousands of our young people are hooked on killer drugs. I say frankly that I regard the protections that are needed as much more vital and compelling than anything that the hon. Member for Davyhulme is proposing to do.

I am surprised—although I think I understand the reasons for it—that the hon. Gentleman should have chosen, of all the vehicles to use for what he wants to do, the Obscene Publications Act 1959. It is widely regarded and acknowledged across the political spectrum to be a shambles and a mess. The Bill wants to extend the already largely discredited test of obscenity in that Act to the more difficult area of television. It proposes a new test of obscenity, which either covers ground already covered by existing legislation or will create the most enormous problems to artistic integrity, educational material and news and current affairs coverage and reporting. I heard what the hon. Member for Davyhulme said in response to an intervention about how he would seek to exclude some of those things, especially news and current affairs coverage and reporting, from the Bill. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) said, there is no way in which he can undertake to guarantee that the Committee will deliver that, nor is there any way in which any one of us can guarantee what will happen to a Bill when it comes out of Committee and back to the House.

As several of my hon. Friends, and, indeed one Conservative Member, rightly said, the Bill makes no attempt to deal with the broader areas of bad taste or the normalisation of violence. A much better way to raise and maintain television standards is not by legislation but by internal flexible broadcasting authority guidelines and proper accountability of the BBC governors and IBA members.

I find it very difficult to make a sensible distinction between Shakespearean artistic violence and non-Shakespearean "Rambo" violence. In reality, I fail to see how that distinction can be made. As I said in an intervention, under the present rules for commercial television, there are facilities for viewers who feel that the IBA is improperly discharging its duties in relation to obscenity to seek a judicial review through the courts, and it has been confirmed that the Home Secretary has fairly draconian powers to deal with members of the IBA who are not properly carrying out their duties. He can tip them out of the door, in short. I refer to the weakness of the test of obscenity in the 1959 Act. Had television been included within the scope of the 1959 Act, I wonder how often in the past 27 years the Director of Public Prosecutions would have consented to the broadcasting authorities being prosecuted. I wonder how often it would have been proven beyond all reasonable doubt that the broadcasting authorities had fallen foul of that discredited Act by showing material that could be demonstrated to tend to deprave and corrupt". The prosecution would have to show that an item had affected someone to make morally bad, to pervert, to debase or corrupt morally"— which is the definition of "deprave". To "corrupt," an item would have to be shown— to render morally unsound, or rotten, or destroy the moral purity or chastity of, to pervert or ruin a good quality, to debase or to defile". The item must not merely be repulsive, filthy, loathsome, indecent or lewd, as the judge in the famous Oz trials suggested before being accused by his superiors of a very substantial and serious misdirection". The prosecution must show that material has had the earlier described effects on a person.

The line of defence is obvious. If a television programme maker is charged with having depraved or corrupted an individual or individuals, he or she can point to millions of other viewers who presumably have not been depraved or corrupted and say that the unfortunate individual or individuals have been subjected to other depraved or corrupting influences. It is lunacy to contemplate that as protection against many of the risks and evils about which we are all worried.

If the programme maker was accused of depraving or corrupting people in general—anybody who saw the item—it would be practically impossible to secure a prosecution. I do not doubt that there is a lawyer who will help me with this, but I have to ask whether, if the Bill were enacted, a judge or jury would be allowed to witness the alleged obscene item if it was obscene as defined by the 1959 Act or the Bill. I wonder whether they run the risk of being corrupted.

Some of the weaknesses of the definition of obscenity in the 1959 Act were recognised by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) when he attempted to reform the law in the wake of the failure of the 1959 Act to secure a prosecution against the publisher of "Inside Linda Lovelace". He wanted to bring television and radio within the scope of the obscenity laws. His Bill made little progress, but he had the sense to attempt to abolish the phrase, "deprave and corrupt" and to avoid trying to replace it, or add to it the wording in clause 2.

Mr. Mikardo

My hon. Friend is right, but if we project that forward, are we not left with the following: if the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) felt that he could provide a definition of obscenity that would stand up and avoid the troubles that we have had with the existing definition, it would have been much more sensible for his new subsection (3A) to replace rather than supplement the existing definition?

Mr. Corbett

There is great merit and wisdom in what my hon. Friend says.

Lord Whitelaw described the law on this subject as "in ruins". There have been two cases involving Lord Wilberforce and Lord Bridge. Lord Wilberforce said: Well might they"— the courts — have said that such words"— "corrupt and deprave" in section 1(1) of the 1959 Act— provide a formula that cannot in practice be applied…I have serious doubts whether the Act will continue to be workable or whether it will produce tolerable results. There has been some implicit, if not explicit, criticism of how the BBC and the IBA carry out their duties in regard to obscenity. I must therefore ask how many times the House has collected evidence of acts of masturbation, sodomy, oral/genital connection, oral/anal connection, cannibalism or bestiality being broadcast?

The hon. Member for Davyhulme and others mentioned a couple of films, extracts of which Tory Members were invited to see. I have not seen them, so I cannot comment, but I am prepared to accept the general 'view of them. However, in any human organisation people will make mistakes. That applies as much to broadcasters as to Members of Parliament and others.

Let us assume that it is acknowledged to be an error of judgment to have shown those films on television. I would be surprised if those who allowed those films to go on television have not learnt a lesson.

Mr. Cash

The problem is that the borders are being pushed forward, which is why this sort of legislation is required.

Mr. Corbett

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point With great respect, the great difficulty is that it is nor enough simply to make that assertion. We must acknowledge, as both broadcasting organisations Have acknowledged, that tastes will change. Few hon. Members. present would have thought 15 years ago that what claims to be a daily newspaper published in London would make a major feature of the breasts of young women. I certainly find that extremely surprising, but apparently it is now acceptable.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

It is not.

Mr. Corbett

I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman say that. It was pointed out earlier that The Sun, which is registered at the Post Office as a newspaper, would not be caught by the Bill's provisions.

Mr. Churchill

Would it be the hon. Gentleman's judgment that The Sun should be caught by the Bill's provisions? Does he believe that the broadcasting authorities should, uniquely of all the media, be exempt from the provisions of the Obscene Publications Act 1959?

Mr. Corbett

No, Sir. How that is best dealt with is a matter of judgment for the broadcasting organisations. There are adequate protections in the Broadcasting Act 1981 to achieve that. I do not object to the pictures in The Sun on the grounds of so-called obscenity. My main objection is that I find them degrading to women. They belittle and patronise them. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) pointed out that, in distorting their image, women were depicted as pliant and passive partners. That is degrading. Obviously, the immediate answer for purchasers is to buy something else.

Mr. Buchan

May I bring to my hon. Friend's notice the fact that the photographs were described as "friendly" by one of the Bill's sponsors?

Mr. Corbett

I know that the hon. Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley) was being extremely sincere in her view, and I understand her point. Nevertheless, the smile on the face of the tiger does not make him friendly or answer the points about the way in which women are portrayed for no more than commercial gain.

Ms. Clare Short

The pictures in The Sun, besides being demeaning to women, distort and corrupt men's idea of sexuality and their conception of the sexual relations that they may have. They are damaging, and possibly affect the climate that allows the incidence of rape to increase. That is my objection.

Mr. Corbett

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. She can speak better on this subject than I can because of the difference in our sexes.

The Bill mentions the lewd exhibition of genital organs, and so on. I am no great fan of the House shoving through legislation and then letting the lawyers sort matters out. To do that is not to carry out our duties properly. However, under the Bill, interpretations of what is or is not "lewd", "vicious" or "simulated" can send people to gaol for three years. I am not being fallacious about this. The problem flows from the definitions. For example, what would happen about the televising of boxing and angling? I find the televising of a man being systematically hit for the sole aim of knocking him senseless dreadful. I believe that it would be caught by the Bill's phrase vicious cruelty towards persons". Similarly, the televising of steeple-chasing or fox-hunting would be caught by the "vicious cruelty" to animals provison. Pictures of struggling or recently killed fish I find unacceptable, and one could argue that they came within the definitions of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Davyhulme and some of his hon. Friends changed their minds about the provision of educational and medical information. There will be almighty problems about defining what is and what is not medical. One may say that if the Health Education Council or a similar body has issued a document, that is fine. However, where does this leave Forummagazine, which, as I remember from distant memory, describes itself as "The Journal of Human Relations"? It describes actions covered by clause 2. According to one's judgment, it may be done in an educational way.

Mr. Parris

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's catalogue. He will not have seen the February edition of Playboy, but if I give him a reference, he can look it up afterwards. In the centre pages is a picture of Miss Angella Jensen, and if that is not a lewd display of genitals, I do not know what is.

Mr. Corbett

I was about to say that I had not had the advantage of seeing it, but perhaps I should say that I have not had the disadvantage of seeing it.

It could be argued that programmes such as "Your Life In Their Hands" might be caught by the Bill, or the BBC "Newsnight" programme which last week went into the astonishing phenomenon of people bursting into flames. That is mutilation. The programme ended with a picture of what was left of a human being after that had occurred, and there were limbs scattered about. Is that caught by the Bill's provisions?

Mr. Churchill

The hon. Gentleman mentioned magazines such as Forum. The Bill specifically makes no reference to, or provision for, the printed word.

Mr. Corbett

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

Ms. Clare Short

There is a book called, I think, "The Joy of Sex" by Dr. Alex Comfort, which is a responsible book about people enjoying their sexuality. It is illustrated—

Mr. Churchill

Section 4.

Ms. Clare Short

This is a serious question. Is that educational? The problem that my hon. Friend has outlined will arise.

Mr. Corbett

The problem is that of definition. I do not believe that it is sensible to leave the definition to lawyers.

There are inferences about the governors of the BBC or the members of the IBA board not taking their responsibilities seriously. Reference has been made to the Wyatt committee, which reported in September 1983. It looked at the portrayal of violence on television programmes and said: we believe it to be essential that the BBC's news bulletins should attempt to reflect what is going on all over the world and they cannot flinch from a proper coverage of war and massacre, torture and urban terrorism…They are likely to include pictures of destruction and casualties, including horrifying pictures of the loss of life and limb. The hon. Member for Davyhulme has said that he will try to exempt such material from the Bill's provisions, but that is by no means the end of the matter.

Let us suppose that a programme maker says to the BBC that he wants to make a programme to try to persuade fewer people to support the objectives of groups such as the IRA or Black September. In the course of the programme, he wants to show acts of appalling and extreme violence carried out by those and many other organisations. My hon. Friends have referred to the coverage of wars and events in such places as the Lebanon, the Falklands, Afghanistan and Vietnam. Before our very eyes, in full colour, we see in our sitting rooms what can be described only as vicious cruelty towards people. Unless we seek to exempt that kind of programme from the Bill, everything will be left almost exactly as it is now. The Bill will not provide the protection that it seeks to provide. Far more vicious cruelty is to be seen in current affairs programmes than is to be seen in specialised programmes.

The Bill would prevent the portrayal of masturbation and sodomy or their simulation, but it makes no specific mention of rape, the most appalling crime that can be committed against a woman. The only influence that, if passed, the Bill would have is if the act of rape were automatically accepted to be vicious cruelty towards a person. Many people would accept that argument. However, will no visual simulation of rape be allowed on any television programme? The House will recall that a public awareness film was made with the co-operation of the Thames Valley police force in which rape was simulated. One of the most useful recent guides to the complicated obscenity laws is the Williams report which was published in 1979. It said: The existing variety of laws in this field should be scrapped and a comprehensive new statute should start afresh. I agree wholeheartedly with that view. I am deeply opposed to the notion of "deeming"; the Bill deems certain material to be obscene. That material is spelt out. I am advised, and I am happy to hear it, that deeming clauses are rare. They remove from the judge or jury the ability to come to a decision on the individual merits, reasons or designs of the case. That is not a road down which we should go.

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I acknowledge that there is great public concern about violence in our society, much of which is portrayed on our television screens. However, I repeat that the legislation is in a shambles. If the Bill were added to it, it would turn that shambles into chaos. Instead of trying to improve faulty legislation by means of potential still faultier amendments, my view is that it would be better to start afresh with an entirely new and radical approach.

1.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Mellor)

I am glad to have the opportunity to follow the seriously considered contribution of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett).

I join those who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) on his good fortune in drawing such a high place in the ballot and on taking advantage of that happy fact to introduce a Bill on a subject that is of great concern to many people. I especially congratulate him on the skilful, clear and conciliatory manner in which he presented his Bill. No one could have been more reasonable or accommodating to the contrary views that have been expressed in the debate. I hope that that will guide the actions of those who wonder whether the Bill should progress. I hope that the Bill will progress, because it is an issue that is sufficiently important to be considered, not only on the Floor of the House, but in Committee, so that we can make a determined effort to overcome the difficulties.

Very few people today, although there were many in the late 1960s and early 1970s, would claim that society should impose no restrictions on the publication of pornographic material. There is general agreement that some material should not be available at all and that some material should be available only in restricted circumstances, so that those who do not want it can avoid it without making any special effort to do so. There is also general agreement that we should look with special care at the material available to children and young people, whose healthy development we all have a duty to protect.

At the same time, we must face the fact that this is an especially difficult area of national life to address by means of law, for many reasons. This is relevant to the point on which the hon. Member for Erdington ended his speech. There is no general agreement on what is acceptable and what is not, partly because we are discussing matters of taste and manners as much as readily identifiable moral effects. Even if everyone in a room agrees that a picture is objectionable or harmful—which is asking a lot—it is still difficult to encapsulate what is objectionable about it under a provision of law.

Enforcement is a difficult problem. In the Home Office we receive many letters about this issue, which I hope give me some insight into public concern. Some of the material is not only disgusting, but is in contravention of the existing law. For example, we receive catalogues which people have received from the Netherlands, which seems to have become a sink of paedophile filth. The difficulty is not one of obscenity, but of enforcement. Other material is believed by many people to be outside the range of what should be legally permissible, but the prosecuting authorities do not believe that it is within the range of what the law prohibits. Other material again is felt by my correspondents to be acceptable for adults, but they are concerned that it has fallen into the hands of their children. More generally, there is an increasing feeling that, leaving aside whether a particular article should or should not be prohibited, there is simply too much violent and sexually provocative material in circulation.

Few people can feel happy about the 1959 Act. I have heard what has been said about the Act, not only in this debate, but by several distinguished people over the years. However, it has served us better than some of its detractors appreciate. The words "deprave and corrupt", although put on the statute book only 25 years ago, now sound quaint and redolent of another era, rather like that celebrated remark of the prosecuting counsel in the Lady Chatterley case, which again was only 25 years ago, although it seems much longer: Members of the jury, would you let your servants read it? Those words are of another era, because even in what we now regard as the less complex world of 1959 the proposers of that Act could not devise a new definition of what was obscene. They had to reach back to a definition containing the magic words, "deprave and corrupt", which emanated from a Lord Chief Justice as long ago as 1868. Thereby hangs the problem that bedevils us today.

Mr. Mikardo

If the Bill is passed as drafted, those words will be retained and prosecutions can be made in relation to them. That is what is wrong with the Bill.

Mr. Mellor

I do not take issue with the hon. Gentleman on that point. I was about to say that, in the absence of the consensus that is necessary for change, and in the absence of the sophisticated drafting that would enable those points to be cast on one side, the Government, like their predecessors—I make no apology for this, because none is needed—have steered clear of proposing outright replacement of the 1959 Act.

We take that view for a variety of reasons, the most notable of which are the interlocking difficulties of identifying and setting forth with precision an improved set of legal prohibitions that would attract widespread support throughout the community and make the law honoured and respected, and readily enforceable when not honoured. The absence of those criteria has led us to approach the matter by taking specific action to deal with specially troubling manifestations of unacceptable obscenity, or by lending support to those hon. Members willing to take the opportunity afforded by their good fortune in the ballot to introduce the necessary changes.

Since 1979 the Government have introduced or supported four measures designed to strengthen the law on obscenity. The first was the Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury), who has now left the shop floor and gone into management. It prohibits the display of indecent material in a public place or where it can be seen from a public place. Then there was a Government measure. Schedule 3 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, which is adopted by local authorities, enables the number of sex shops in an area to be controlled by a licensing scheme. Many local authorities have taken up that entitlement and fewer than 100 sex shops have been licensed, so it is a valuable control measure.

The Cinematograph (Amendment) Act 1982 was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd), who by one of those interesting coincidences has also gone into management now. It removed the exemption granted to bogus cinema clubs from licensing controls in the legislation on cinemas, and thus did a valuable job. The fourth Act was one with which I was closely associated. The Video Recordings Act 1984, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright), prohibits, subject to certain exemptions, the supply of a video recording containing an unclassified work. The House can take pride in that specific measure because it not only created a workable law which is now steadily coming into force, but helped to create a climate in which, even before the new law came in, most of the video nasties have been taken from the shelves and are no longer a feature of our high streets, as they so objectionably were two or three years ago.

Breaking the problem down in that way also recognises the complexities that often make an across-the-board approach undesirable, however readily it may be mentioned in speeches. For example, to deal with the urgent problem of video nasties, we supplemented the general law on obscenity by establishing a system of prepublication scrutiny and classification. That approach would not be practicable, and in all probability would be unacceptable, if applied to the written word or to pictures.

My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme—I congratulate him on it—recognises those points and his Bill seeks to amend and supplement, not to replace, the 1959 Act, and that is the right approach at this stage.

Mr. Mikardo

That is what is wrong with it.

Mr. Mellor

I respect the hon. Gentleman. He has strongly held convictions on this matter and always participates to considerable effect in these debates. However, it is not a practical proposition in the matters that we have already discussed where the House has taken action—it is for the House to decide whether what my hon. Friend proposes is one of them—to wait for a general reform, which in the present climate most would believe is simply not capable of achievement, and thus to stop improvements from being made to the law. The House must determine whether what is proposed constitutes an improvement. That is what my hon. Friend is inviting the House to make its judgment on today, and, I hope, thereafter in Committee.

Mr. Lawrence

Is not what is wrong with the definition of "tendency to deprave and corrupt" the fact that in too many cases material which is to the overwhelming majority of people disgusting is nevertheless allowed because of the acquittals that take place because juries do not understand the complexity and involvement of the law that surrounds the test of "tendency to deprave and corrupt"? Therefore, is not the strength of the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) that it sets out and distinguishes in a category form most of the items that most disgust the public and is most likely to protect children if the law legislates against them?

Mr. Mellor

My hon. and learned Friend puts effectively the case of those who, like himself, support what my hon. Friend is trying to do.

My hon. Friend is right to be particularly concerned about the effect of pornographic or violent material on children. Material which may be within the borders of acceptability if shown to adults may well be damaging to children, and that is an important insight that unites hon. Members on both sides of the House. In retaining the basic framework of the 1959 Act my hon. Friend recognises the central virtue of that Act, which perhaps I should spell out.

The test of obscenity in section 1 of the 1959 Act depends on the effect on those who are likely to read, see or hear the article concerned. Therefore, material may be obscene if supplied or shown to children, but not if supplied or shown to adults only. That means that if a film which has an 18 certificate for showing in an age-segregated cinema is shown to children, whether on terrorism or otherwise, it might well be found under the 1959 Act that that material was obscene.

Let me turn to the detail of the Bill, which I have looked at with care. It might assist if I set out briefly our thoughts on its specific provisions. As we know, the specific test which the Bill would set up for articles published in places to which persons under 18 have access or shown on television is in the form of a list. Material published in that way could automatically be regarded as obscene—deemed to be obscene—if it depicted any of the matters set out in clause 2.

It is argued in favour of the list that thereby it establishes straightforward and clear-cut guidelines for courts. That is what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said, but the list system has been rather powerfully criticised by those who have examined it in detail. For instance, it was among the proposals carefully examined by the Williams committee. The committee concluded that a list would mean ignoring the contribution which the context or the manner of presentation would inevitably make, that to base a law on an explicit statement of what is prohibited requires that the statement also be exhaustive, that it was far from easy to cover all the ground, and that there was a danger that the enterprising pornographer would be able to develop from any explicit list a blueprint of what could be got away with. My hon. Friend's proposal recognises that and is not vulnerable to all of those criticisms, because his list in clause 2 is without prejudice to the present definition of obscenity and therefore does not try to be exhaustive. That is plainly an advantage.

The second major difficulty identified by the Williams committee was that lists tend to cover material that is relatively innocuous. That is rather more relevant to the Bill as it stands. As many hon. Members have said, the list in clause 2 seems to catch certain material which, set in a proper context and presented in a proper manner, may well be unobjectionable. That is particularly true of the way in which the Bill seeks to deal with violence. I shall not repeat the examples that have been given. However, I am grateful, and I believe the House will be, for the clear recognition that my hon. Friend is alive to the difficulty and that he has demonstrated his wish to address the matter in Committee. Obviously those who do not care for the list approach will doubt whether it is possible to devise a list that does that. I say to the House that my hon. Friend has taken the point on board and is willing to make the attempt, and surely we should give him a chance to prove it. I want to do my best to assist him in cutting his way through that thicket.

Mr. Chris Smith

Will the Minister accept that, although the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) has rightly demonstrated that he wishes to protect items of public interest, he has not taken on board the problem which in a letter to Conservative Members he said he wanted to avoid, which is that he will catch magazines such as Mayfair and Playboy? The list, as it stands, will undoubtedly catch quite a large proportion of items which are at present in those magazines.

Mr. Mellor

That is a good point. I shall come to that later and make what I hope will be a helpful suggestion.

One of the things which I think my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme has recognised, and which I would encourage him to consider, is that if some amendment were not made his approach would place a great strain on the public good defence and on the readiness of the prosecuting authorities to enforce the law in a discretionary manner. It is a little difficult to argue that a list would lead to greater certainty and that the law would be applied so that prosecutions would be brought in respect only of objectionable material. There is an inconsistency there which we want to explore and which my hon. Friend wants to remove.

I come now to the matter concerning the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). There is a definition of obscenity which the House will want to examine carefully in Committee, namely, that the list in clause 2 should apply to material published in a place to which children have access or to programmes shown on television.

The effect of the Bill will be that material will automatically be regarded as obscene if it is supplied in a shop or other place to which children have access, even if it is not supplied to children and, moreover, even if it cannot be seen by children in the shop. That means, in effect, confining such material to sex shops and similar estabishments. My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme may wish to consider in Committee whether his purpose would adequately be served by confining his new proposed test to material supplied to children or published in such a way that it can be seen by children on the premises concerned. There might be some troubling law and order implications by giving sex shops a highly profitable monopoly over a wider range of material than at present.

I do not want to outstay my welcome, but I must comment on broadcasting, because that is an important and sensitive part of my hon. Friend's proposals. Many hon. Members will undoubtedly think it strange, and have said during the debate, that here we have a serious criminal offence which at present applies to every member of the community and to every kind of activity, with the single exception of broadcasting. There can be few precedents for a selective application of the criminal law of that kind, and most of us would think that there would need to be exceptional circumstances to justify it. However, our predecessors in 1959 considered that broadcasting merited such an exception. It is worth pausing to consider the reasons that led them to reach that view.

In the United Kingdom we have a system of broadcasting which goes back 60 years, and which has operated, not only well, but I believe better than that in almost anywhere else in the world during that period. Unlike any other form of publishing, the arrangements are that broadcasting is the responsibility, not of individuals, nor of private companies, nor of the State, but of what we call "broadcasting authorities", which are responsible to Parliament for safeguarding the public interest in broadcasting. These are the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority. They are independent public bodies, comprising men and women of integrity and with a record of public service who are appointed on the recommendation of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. They are answerable, not to the Government, nor to shareholders, nor to those who make their programmes, but to Parliament. That is why the importance of discussing the issue in this way seems to be established.

Although they are independent in their day-to-day operations, Parliament has placed upon the broadcasting authorities strict and precise obligations regarding programme standards. To give effect to these, both organisations have produced detailed codes of guidance. On violence, they discuss matters such as the influence of television on behaviour, especially on young or susceptible people, and the dangers of such things as imitative violence or "copycat" events following news programmes, such as the coverage of riots.

The BBC's code was last reviewed in 1983 and is to be reviewed again. The IBA's code was reviewed in 1985. It seems that no one in the Chamber challenges the assertion that the codes are drawn tightly, but there are many who question how effectively they are being implemented and how responsive broadcasters are to public criticism when things go wrong. It was about these matters that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary asked for a meeting on 17 December with the chairmen and directors general of the BBC and the IBA, who agreed to give further consideration to the depiction of violence on television and how their codes had been implemented in the past.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

If the Bill were to be enacted in its current form, would prosecutions be brought against the makers of programmes, or against the boards that permitted certain programmes to be shown?

Mr. Mellor

As the hon. Gentleman knows, that depends on who is deemed, on the facts of each case, to have published the item in question. That is an important issue that will need to be considered. That which would apply to a live programme and to the programme maker may not apply to a recorded programme. These are some of the complexities that we shall come across when treading in this area, and we shall certainly need to address them.

The obligations that I have described that bear on the broadcasting authorities— I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Brinton) has been. leaning towards this in his interventions—are much stricter than anything in the present Obscene Publications Act 1959, and so they should be. Broadcasting has the power to deliver its message into the heart of a family in the intimacy of its own home. That is precisely why such strict and clear-cut obligations on programme standards are placed upon the broadcasting authorities.

In considering whether we want to go back on the 1959 settlement, we must ask ourselves whether extending the criminal law in this area will help or hinder the maintenance of standards. Will it help clarify the responsibility of the broadcasting authorities and programme makers, or will it leave them uncertain which set of obligations to follow? Will it help reinforce the trust which Parliament has laid upon the broadcasting authorities or will it throw that trust into doubt? Will it strengthen the respect in which the broadcasting authorities are held by producers and directors of programmes, or will it weaken it? Above all, will it make it easier for the broadcasting guidelines to address the "drip, drip, drip" effect of cumulative violence, or will it give producers who are anxious to kick over the traces a basis on which to argue that if their programme is within the much more permissive ambit of the 1959 Act it is all right? Of course, we would all say that it is not.

Those are just some of the questions that are fundamental to the principles on which broadcasting has been so successfully based in this country for so long. They deserve the fullest consideration before we seek to extend the criminal law into this area.

The test that the BBC and the IBA must apply to the standards of their programmes is much stricter than that in the Obscene Publications Act. There may be times when some of us think that the broadcasters have overstepped the mark of good taste or have produced programmes that are offensive to many people. But let us be under no illusion: that is very different from establishing that the material is obscene under the 1959 Act.

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme wishes to address two issues. The first is the occasional individual programme, sometimes a film, which contains scenes or language which many people consider distasteful and offensive and which is unsuitable for the broadcast media.

Mention has been made of two recent films, "Sebastiane" and "Jubilee", which were shown on Channel 4 last year. I have not seen either film, but many people felt that, however late the hour of showing, those films were an unwarranted intrusion into people's homes. It is not for me to judge whether those films breached the normal conventions that apply to broadcasting, but many people believed that they did, and my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme spoke eloquently and tellingly on the subject.

Whether we fall on one side of the question or the other, let no one be under any illusion. The issues raised by the showing of those films are important enough to detain the House for more than a moment.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)

My hon. Friend referred to the occasional film. The important point is that such films are the thin end of the wedge. We must not allow matters to escalate.

Mr. Mellor

A number of hon. Members share that view.

The second problem addressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme is different and much more frequent. It is the daily diet of crime series, often at times of the day when children will almost certainly be watching, which seem to promote a view of society in which virtue and success lie on the side of the violent, the unprincipled and the foul mouthed.

Those programmes are undoubtedly popular, but many people feel that their effect is corrosive, especially on the values and behaviour of young people. Those who know their geology understand that the steady drip, drip, drip wears its way through the hardest rock as surely and efficiently as does a diamond-tipped drill.

Mr. Cash

I think that I get the drift of what my hon. Friend is saying, which seems to be that he is not sure, at least at this stage, that this sort of legislation is required to deal with matters affecting the broadcasting authorities. The code includes reference to, for example, the gratuitous exploitation of sadistic or other perverted practices". I hope my hon. Friend will accept that what was on television the other night transgressed that code. We are concerned about the people who are regulating themselves.

Mr. Mellor

I hope that what I have to say to the House is clear. We should think long and hard before we throw over the principles that led to the broadcasting exemption, and we should not assume that the 1959 Act would offer immediate relief, because it sets wide parameters.

I think that many hon. Members are asking that the broadcasting authorities should extend reassurances to them so that they may be satisfied that the guidelines are being properly enforced. My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme, in concentrating the minds of broadcasters, may bring about that helpful process. I am sure that the process would be assisted if the Bill went into Committee.

Mr. Fairbairn

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Mellor

I think that I ought to make progress.

Mr. Fairbairn

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Mellor

I have given way a great deal. If I keep giving way, I shall never finish my speech, and I think that it would be to everyone's advantage if I did finish.

A private Member's Bill provides an ideal means for Parliament to consider all the matters that have troubled us. We have had a useful debate, which has been conducted in a constructive and non-partisan manner. I warmly applaud the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme in bringing forward the Bill. I very much hope that the House will grant it a Second Reading so that we have the opportunity to consider its provisions and, no doubt, alternative proposals in Committee. These issues are too serious to be thrown on one side after a few hours' debate in the House. I shall be ready to do all I can to assist the Committee in its deliberations in any way that it thinks helpful. I look forward to those further discussions. Meanwhile, I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will join me in voting to give the Bill a Second Reading.

2 pm

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

The basic motive that the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) has put before the House in this private Member's Bill is an entirely praiseworthy one with which I agree. He defined that motive as being the highest duty of the Housee— the protection of children. As the intention behind the legislation, it cannot be faulted. However, my complaint with the Bill as drafted is that it does not take us any way along the road towards that aim. I fear that it will create a number of problems.

The problem of violence depicted on television, where it is available to children for consumption, is far more important and serious than the problems of sex to which much reference has been made. The problem of violence on television was discussed at considerable length some weeks ago in the debate on a motion tabled by the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith). During that debate, I drew attention to the fact that often it is not the particularly cruel, vicious or explicit depiction of violence that causes the greatest damage. That depiction can lead to revulsion in the viewer as was the specific intention of the person who made the film. The greatest damage is often caused by those who depict violence in a more acceptable, routine, run-of-the-mill fashion.

I must confess that I saw the "Jubilee" film to which the hon. Member for Davyhulme drew attention. I found it boring and not particularly acceptable to my taste. I believe, however, that much more potential damage could be done to children by the almost daily depiction of violence in television series, such as "The A Team", "Starsky and Hutch" and "The Professionals", where acceptable acts of violence are depicted on our television screens. I am afraid that the Bill will do nothing to tackle that specific problem.

My charge against the Bill is that it misses the major point of concern to many people, including me.

Mr. Buchan

The legislation may exacerbate our main problem. Once a list is made, anything not in it will, by definition, be deemed to be all right. That is the problem.

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend is right. By specifying a list of activities that are regarded as being within the scope of the Bill, the assumption of television producers and programme purchasers must be that anything not on the list is acceptable and approved by the House.

The hon. Member for Davyhulme has honourably said that he will seek to amend the Bill to include a provision for the public interest. A problem alluded to by many of my hon. Friends is what constitutes the public interest, and what sort of tests must we apply to ensure that something is acceptable under the educational, historical, artistic or learning qualifications that the hon. Gentleman seeks in his Bill. Must we ensure that it goes through the courts in order to provide a test? That appears to be the case according to the original clause in the 1959 Act.

A worry that I raised in an intervention was about important documents, either in written or film form, that warn about the dangers of diseases like AIDS and which because of the nature of the disease needs to be most explicit. Will such publications be caught by this Bill or will they be excluded under the provision about the public interest criteria which the hon. Member has said he will include.?

Mr. Fairbairn

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that the private law which the broadcasting authorities have printed for themselves but which they do not obey should be made part of the public law in this statute. There is the criterion: make it subject to criminal sanction.

Mr. Smith

I am not sure whether the hon. and learned Gentleman's point has answered the question that I asked. Many issues require explicit depiction in order to have their medical or communicational significance expounded, and I am worried about the nature of the public interest test that the hon. Member seeks to include in his Bill.

Mr. Bermingham

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is almost impossible in word definitive terms to draw a distinction between education and entertainment?

Mr. Chris Smith

My hon. Friend is right and he points to one of the many grey areas which will be affected if this Bill reaches the statute book. Perhaps I could look at some of the grey areas. There is the problem of what precisely constitutes a place to which a person of 18 years or under might have access. The proposal from the Minister might well go some way towards solving the problem, but the Bill leaves open the definition of a place.

There is also the problem of why the hon. Gentleman has chosen the age of 18. A person of 16 or 17 could be at work in a publishing house and if that house is publishing material which might be caught under this Bill that person could well have to give up his job. That problem could perhaps be dealt with if the age of 16 were to be substituted. That can be considered in Committee.

This Bill seeks to change the definition of obscenity. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) made that point. Changing the definition of obscenity would leave on the statute book the 1959 definition of "deprave and corrupt" but the Bill adds to it in a way that relies entirely on the content of the material and not on its effect. It ignores the context in which the material is published: it ignores the intention behind the publication. It ignores the impact that that publication may have in the circumstances in which it is produced. I would far rather have a definition that relied on impact and effect than a definition of content, such as in the list in the Bill. The items in the list can be caught by the Bill, whether they deprave or corrupt. The House should be wary of that before proceeding towards legislation.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Smith

I am conscious of the time, and I have given way a few times. I want to press on.

It seems odd that the list in clause 2 excludes several acts in sexual relationships and includes others that might be regarded as discriminating against some sections of the population. I am concerned about the possible implications of the selection of items in the list that the hon. Member for Davyhulme has made.

I have no criticism of the intention behind the Bill because I am sure that, in putting it before the House, the hon. Gentleman has the highest motives for the protection of children. I am sure that all of us in the House would wish to ensure that that principle, assisted by legislation, reached the statute book. However, I fear that the Bill as it stands will not achieve that end.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

I call Mr. Churchill to speak again, with the leave of the House.

Mr. Churchill

With the leave of the House, I thank the sponsors of the Bill and those who have spoken in support—

Ms. Clare Short

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not know the procedure, but I have been in the Chamber since 9.30 am and I should like to make a speech. I should be interested to hear what the promoter of the Bill has to say, but I should like to make my speech. Therefore, I do not give my leave.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

If the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) does not have the leave of the House, he may not speak again.

2.7 pm

Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West)

I have listened with interest to the debate. I was disappointed by the speeches of Opposition Members because they had a hollow ring about them. Despite the ambitions of Labour Members to make the world a better place, they do not seem to accept that the passage of the Bill will be a small stepping stone in that direction.

I have always been fairly open minded about violence on television, probably because I do not watch a great deal of it, but over the years I have noticed how much more prevalent violence seems to be on our screens. Furthermore, at the back of my mind, like others, I have wondered what the influence of the violence has been on the more susceptible viewers who have been watching the programmes, whatever age they may be. The guns get bigger, the deaths more bloody, the violence more brutal and the participants more glamorous and seemingly more respectable.

It is no wonder to me that, all too often, impressionable citizens seek to emulate what they see on the screens. Sadly, that case is proven, especially among young people who tend to watch more television than any other group in the community. In 1984, 1,500 children under 14 were convicted of violent crimes, 300 were convicted of sexual offences and 30,000 were convicted of theft. Imagine the numbers who were not caught. Those of us who have been victims of petty theft will know what small chance, all too often, police have of catching those villains.

Mr. Mikardo

I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said, but if he is arguing that many crimes derive from what people see on television, why does the Bill exempt Scotland and Northern Ireland? Why is it all right to provoke juvenile crime in Scotland and, above all, in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Marland

That matter has already been discussed. I want to get on with my speech as that is in the interests of us all.

It was with great interest that I went to see "Jubilee" and "Sebastiane", which were made available for many of us to see last week. I have to say that I was shocked by what I saw. It far exceeded my worst imagination. The scenes can only have been performed by people who were mad or under the influence of drugs. We saw people carrying out acts of unbelievable cruelty.

Mr. Jessel

Does my hon. Friend agree that the growing abuse of drugs makes the need for the Bill all the greater as, when under the influence of drugs, normal restraints are absent and young people who have watched such scenes on television are more likely to imitate vicious cruelty and other behaviour in films such as the Bill is designed to prevent from going on television?

Mr. Marland

I quite agree. We saw unbelievable acts of cruelty, mindless violence and irrational behaviour, and I am sure that they were brought on by the use of drugs. We witnessed horrific killings in colour with no detail spared. Throughout there was an underlying anti-authority and anti-law and order theme in an attempt to show the police in a very bad light. It culminated in the brutal killing of a policeman by the slitting open of his stomach and his intestines falling out. It was sick making, especially as the film tried to glorify such barbarous acts of violence and somehow make them acceptable.

I do not watch a great deal of television. but I learn that those films have been put out on Channel 4. That defies belief. They might well have been shown after 11 pm, but I do not think that that makes a great deal of difference because such filth should never have been put out in the first place.

I always try to understand the other man's point of view. That is part of our job as Members of Parliament. I am not in favour of legislation for the sake of legislation as I prefer to have confidence that people will live within the spirit of the law and obey the letter of the law. However, the makers of such films have gone too far. The controllers of Channel 4 must carry a large proportion of the blame for putting this dirt out on our television screens. It is therefore with pleasure that, although the Bill does not cover everything, I shall vote for its Second Reading with enthusiasm.

2.17 pm
Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

I assure the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) that I have no intention of talking out his Bill.

It is an enormous pity that the Bill is so deeply flawed. The hon. Member for Davyhulme approached me among other Labour Members and asked whether I would be interested in supporting a Bill that would try to act against violence and violent pornography. I said that I was certainly interested in a Bill with that purpose, but when I saw the draft of the Bill I had to make it clear that I could not support it.

Many Conservative Members have spoken of the worry in the country about the level of violence on television and the attitude to sex, the attitude of men to women and about the rise in the incidence of rape. I agree, but they do not seem to understand, or even care, that the Bill will do nothing to remedy those problems.

The list of offences that will not be permitted to be shown on television or to be published in other ways if the Bill is enacted are not those things which worry people in terms of their children's daily watching of television. As my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, there is a danger that the list in clause 2 will catch all manner of legitimate activities and thus create anomalies and dangers.

There is an even greater problem. We shall suggest to the public, if we give the Bill a Second Reading, that their worries are being dealt with, but the Bill is so defective that it will not tackle those issues at all. People are worried about the so-called drip, drip violence on television—the desensitising repetitive violence, not extreme acts of vicious cruelty. I have never seen such extreme acts of vicious cruelty on television. "The A Team", "The Professionals", and "Starsky and Hutch" show sanitised killing with little blood. The character who has been killed is written from the script so that there is no distress at his death. They show punching and violence which in real life would cause enormous suffering, harm and mutilation. Such programmes are continually shown, and it is suggested that they are acceptable. When we feed our children a diet of such programmes, it is not surprising that young children of five behave more violently than they used to do. I notice that type of behaviour among my nieces and nephews, and those programmes are responsible for it. The Bill will not help us because the extreme acts of violence that it will outlaw are not the programmes that our children watch day in, day out.

The other problem that disturbs me greatly is page 3 in The Sun. Page 3 in the Daily Mirror is slighly less bad, but I do not like it either. If one considers them objectively, one sees that page 3 models in the Daily Mirror are slightly more clothed. I find the pictures repulsive and deeply offensive. It is notable that The Sun is a Right-wing racist paper. [Interruption.] It is undoubtedly a racist paper. A person who worked briefly on The Sun wrote an interesting article recently in the New Statesman. He said that when a Sikh man won The Sun bingo, the editor said, "No, we don't want any wogs on the front page of our newspapers". The racism in The Sun is obviously deliberate.

The Bill has not attempted to act against that. The hon Member for Davyhulme suggests that the difficulty may be a technical one, but I do not accept that. It would have been simple to deal with. Indeed, I may bring forward a ten-minute Bill to outlaw showing pictures of partially naked or naked women in mass circulation newspapers. I wonder whether Tory Members would support me. The matter could be dealt with simply in one clause, and we could all vote on it and clean up The Sun. It has a circulation of about 4 million, and is read by families throughout the land. Men take it with them to work and giggle together about it. It distorts their attitude towards sexuality and sex.

We could also easily in one clause impose a duty on the IBA and BBC to reduce the quantity of regular violence on television. A two-clause Bill which dealt with those two matters would help immensely with this worrying problem, but this Bill will not touch it. We are pretending to the public that we shall remedy the problem, but we are not doing so. Therefore, regrettably, I oppose the Bill. I hope that Tory Members will consider seriously the details of the Bill, instead of merely wishing to mouth an ineffective protest.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

I rise with surprise and gratitude. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) and his supporters from all parts of the House on introducing this admirable Bill. It deserves widespread support, and I am sorry that some hon. Members think otherwise.

With the growth of prosperity, almost every house has a television set. In many families the sets are switched on each evening for many hours. Television is the most powerful medium of communication, but it is absolutely essential that television and broadcasting should be brought within the confines of the 1959 Act.

There is a growing swell of support for the Bill and for some control of producers who have been pushing the frontiers of decency further and further back until, in the latest examples, there are hardly any acts of obscenity and vicious cruelty that are not shown, although they are way beyond the guidelines for television and broadcasting.

A further important reason for supporting the Bill is that the crime of rape is becoming horribly frequent. I am sure that many such dastardly acts, especially those committed by young people, are the direct result of something they have seen on the box. I do not believe that acts of violence on television do not influence many people. We all know the influence that television has, otherwise why should so many millions of pounds be spent on advertising?

I mentioned the growing prosperity of the country, which we have recently seen highlighted in "Social Trends". Those who have bought colour television sets, who buy their homes, go abroad for their holidays and own a car do not want this material improvement in then lives and those of their families threatened by a complete breakdown in moral codes and behaviour. They look to Parliament to regulate these matters, as they look to the bishops and the Church.

I am delighted that obscene magazines openly on sale at newsagents are to be brought within the confines of the Bill. Children often come to these shops, mostly to buy sweets, and they should be protected. I am glad that the Government are to give the Bill a fair wind, and I hope that they will reconsider their views on television and broadcasting. There is no quicker way of bringing down a society than by a corruption of morals. I hope that this is not why some misguided Labour Members have been so strong in their opposition to the Bill.

In particular, children must be protected from the wiles of evil men. We all know that pornography, like drugs, is an increasingly profitable trade. The police will welcome the Bill as they will now know where they stand and There will not be the old difficulty of attempting to describe obscenity. The police will also be glad to know that the sale of explicit sexual magazines will no longer be allowed on the premises of newsagents.

I often complain that we pass too many Bills, but this is an exception. If the Bill is passed, as I trust that it will be, I am sure that we shall earn the gratitude not only of millions of people but of the parents of many children.

2.27 pm
Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

The manner in which television and broadcasting is being misused, with sexual abuse and violence being portrayed, is at the heart of the Bill. The guidelines laid down by the broadcasting authorities, to which my hon. Friend the Minister referred. have not been properly adhered to. In a brief intervention, I mentioned one of the guidelines set out in the IBA's code, which is that Dramatic truth may occasionally demand the portrayal of a sadistic character, but there can be no defence of violence shown solely for its own sake, or of the gratuituous exploitation of sadistic or other perverted practices. This matter could be regulated by the Bill, but, regrettably, it is clear from the showing of the firms "Sebastiane" and "Jubilee" recently that these guidelines are not being properly adhered to. In the circumstances, it is equally clear that some extra sanction is required.

Against the background of this, and my deep concern about child abuse, which has been generated by such films and by the failure of the broadcasting authorities to exercise the influence that they could under the guidelines, I feel that the Bill is required and must be enacted. Therefore, I strongly support its principle and I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for agreeing that it should go forward. I hope that it will receive full consideration in Committee and will then be enacted. The Bill has caused a great deal of concern to many Labour Members who have criticised its contents and objectives. I hope that, by the end of the year, they will realise, when they see the evidence—

Mr. Churchill

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 161, Noes 31.

Division No. 48] [2.30 pm
Alexander, Richard Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW)
Alton, David Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney
Amess, David Hayward, Robert
Anderson, Donald Hicks, Robert
Ashby, David Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Aspinwall, Jack Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Hordern, Sir Peter
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Howard, Michael
Beith, A. J. Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)
Bendall, Vivian Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)
Benyon, William Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham)
Best, Keith Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Bevan, David Gilroy Janner, Hon Greville
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Jessel, Toby
Blackburn, John Jones, Robert (Herts W)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Kennedy, Charles
Boyson, Dr Rhodes King, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard King, Rt Hon Tom
Bright, Graham Lambie, David
Buck, Sir Antony Lang, Ian
Burt, Alistair Lawrence, Ivan
Campbell, Ian Lester, Jim
Campbell-Savours, Dale Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Lilley, Peter
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Chapman, Sydney McCrindle, Robert
Churchill, W. S. McNamara, Kevin
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) McQuarrie, Albert
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Malins, Humfrey
Cope, John Marland, Paul
Couchman, James Marlow, Antony
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Craigen, J. M. Mates, Michael
Crouch, David Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Dickens, Geoffrey Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Dicks, Terry Mellor, David
Dixon, Donald Mikardo, Ian
Dover, Den Montgomery, Sir Fergus
du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Dunn, Robert Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Durant, Tony Moynihan, Hon C.
Dykes, Hugh Murphy, Christopher
Evennett, David Neubert, Michael
Eyre, Sir Reginald Onslow, Cranley
Fairbairn, Nicholas Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Fallon, Michael Pattie, Geoffrey
Favell, Anthony Pavitt, Laurie
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Pawsey, James
Forman, Nigel Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Fox, Marcus Penhaligon, David
Galley, Roy Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Powley, John
Garel-Jones, Tristan Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Greenway, Harry Price, Sir David
Gregory, Conal Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Grist, Ian Roe, Mrs Marion
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Rooker, J. W.
Hancock, Michael Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Hargreaves, Kenneth Rossi, Sir Hugh
Sackville, Hon Thomas Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Thornton, Malcolm
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Trippier, David
Shelton, William (Streatham) Twinn, Dr Ian
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Shersby, Michael Walden, George
Silvester, Fred Waller, Gary
Sims, Roger Walters, Dennis
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Warren, Kenneth
Squire, Robin Watts, John
Stanbrook, Ivor Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Stanley, Rt Hon John White, James
Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles) Wiggin, Jerry
Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N) Williams, Rt Hon A.
Stokes, John Winterton, Mrs Ann
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Wolfson, Mark
Temple-Morris, Peter Woodall, Alec
Terlezki, Stefan
Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M. Tellers for the Ayes:
Thompson, Donald (Calder V) Mr. Douglas Hogg and
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N) Mr. William Cash.
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Nellist, David
Bermingham, Gerald Parris, Matthew
Brinton, Tim Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Richardson, Ms Jo
Buchan, Norman Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Corbyn, Jeremy Sedgemore, Brian
Dobson, Frank Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Skinner, Dennis
Flannery, Martin Snape, Peter
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Soley, Clive
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Wheeler, John
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Wrigglesworth, Ian
Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)
Harman, Ms Harriet Tellers for the Noes:
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall) Mr. Chris Smith and
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Mr. Harry Cohen.
Maynard, Miss Joan

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Buchan.]

The House divided: Ayes 25, Noes 125.

Division No. 49] 2.40 pm
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Nellist, David
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Pavitt, Laurie
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Richardson, Ms Jo
Bermingham, Gerald Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Buchan, Norman Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Corbett, Robin Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Corbyn, Jeremy Snape, Peter
Dobson, Frank Soley, Clive
Dubs, Alfred Wheeler, John
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Tellers for the Ayes:
Lambie, David Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody and
Mikardo, Ian Mr. Harry Cohen.
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Alexander, Richard Best, Keith
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Biggs-Davison, Sir John
Alton, David Blackburn, John
Amess, David Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Anderson, Donald Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Ashby, David Boyson, Dr Rhodes
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Bright, Graham
Beith, A. J. Buck, Sir Antony
Bendall, Vivian Burt, Alistair
Campbell, Ian Mellor, David
Campbell-Savours, Dale Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Churchill, W. S. Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Clarke, Thomas Moynihan, Hon C.
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Murphy, Christopher
Cope, John Neubert, Michael
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Onslow, Cranley
Crouch, David Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Dicks, Terry Pattie, Geoffrey
Dover, Den Pawsey, James
du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Dunn, Robert Penhaligon, David
Durant, Tony Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Dykes, Hugh Powley, John
Eyre, Sir Reginald Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Fairbairn, Nicholas Price, Sir David
Fallon, Michael Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Forman, Nigel Roe, Mrs Marion
Fox, Marcus Rooker, J. W.
Galley, Roy Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Rossi, Sir Hugh
Garel-Jones, Tristan Sackville, Hon Thomas
Greenway, Harry Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Grist, Ian Shersby, Michael
Hargreaves, Kenneth Silvester, Fred
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Sims, Roger
Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW) Squire, Robin
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney Stanbrook, Ivor
Hayward, Robert Stanley, Rt Hon John
Hicks, Robert Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N)
Hordern, Sir Peter Stokes, John
Howard, Michael Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham) Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Janner, Hon Greville Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Jessel, Toby Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Jones, Robert (Herts W) Thornton, Malcolm
Kennedy, Charles Thurnham, Peter
Lang, Ian Trippier, David
Lawrence, Ivan Twinn, Dr Ian
Lester, Jim Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Walters, Dennis
Lilley, Peter Warren, Kenneth
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Watts, John
McCrindle, Robert Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
McNamara, Kevin White, James
McQuarrie, Albert Wiggin, Jerry
Malins, Humfrey
Marland, Paul Tellers for the Noes:
Marlow, Antony Mr. Douglas Hogg and
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Mr. William Cash.
Mates, Michael

Question accordingly negatived.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 42 (Committal of Bills).