HL Deb 03 July 1857 vol 146 cc864-7

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.


in moving that the House go into Committee upon the Bill, said, he was sorry he could not meet the convenience of some of their Lordships by postponing the Committee on this Bill, but he felt he would be guilty of a dereliction of duty if he were to do so; for, unless he pushed forward the Bill that evening, he would be unable to carry a measure that Session which he believed to be urgently demanded. On the occasion of his moving the second reading of the Bill, he was so much surprised by some of the criticisms that he had to encounter that he had made up his mind to abandon it altogether; but since then he had received such strong solicitations to proceed from various Members of that House, from clergymen of all denominations, from many medical men, from fathers of families, and from young men who themselves had been inveigled into those receptacles of abomination against which his Bill was directed, and had suffered most lamentably from that catastrophe, that he thought it his duty to persevere; and he had the hope that from the alterations in the Bill which he would shortly state to their Lordships, it would not meet with further opposition. He was sure that the Bill was opposed in the first instance only from a misapprehension of its object. He had no desire whatever to interfere by legislation with books, or pictures, or prints, such as were described to their Lordships the other evening as being endangered by this measure. The keeping, or the reading, or the delighting in such things must be left to taste, and was not a subject for legal interference; but when there were people who designedly and industriously manufactured books and prints with the intention of corrupting the public morals, and when they succeeded in their infamous purpose, he thought it was necessary for the Legislature to interpose and to save the public from the contamination to which they would otherwise be exposed. He now knew more certainly than he did before, that there were receptacles for the sale and exhibition of these abominable books and prints, which had the most lamentable effect, and which the law as it stood at present was altogether insufficient to put down. An indictment might be preferred, and a conviction obtained, but after the conviction the sale from the very same shop, by reason of the advertisement which the indictment published to the world, was more rapid and more fatal than before; and the only chance of putting an end to these abominations was to give a right—with all proper limitations, so that there should be no danger of abuse—to search the deposits of objectionable books and prints, to seize them, and to burn or otherwise destroy them. He knew that such receptacles did exist, and he was convinced that they could be readily reached if the proposed power were given, and that his measure would work easily and be most effectual. He did not wish to create any new offence, but to leave the common law—by which it was a misdemeanour to publish such abominable books or prints—as it stood—the object being to give facilities for seizing obscene publications and destroying them. He had already explained to their Lordships the stringent powers which existed with respect to gambling houses; and Customs' officers, under the powers they possessed, had repeatedly seized large importations of indecent books and prints; but in Holy well-street the keepers of these abominable publications set decency and law at defiance. If there were the same powers of searching for these books as for "uncustomed goods," or as in gambling houses for dice and cards, the public might be relieved from these contaminations. Having been very ably assisted, he had introduced some modifications into the Bill, so as to prevent its being obnoxious to any objection. The operative part consisted of two clauses: one was to empower justices of the peace, upon an affidavit being made that there was reason to suspect that these publications were kept in a house for sale and exhibition, to grant a warrant for searching; the other clause empowered the Chief Commissioner of Police, where he had reasonable information that these books were kept, to grant a warrant of the same kind. He believed that the liberties of the subject would be in no danger if Sir Richard Mayne had the same power which was possessed by the head of the police in every capital in Europe. That power had, however, been objected to, and he had been obliged to abandon this provision, which he did on the principle that half a loaf was better than no bread. Into the other clause he had introduced modifications which he believed to be unnecessary, but which would be harmless. The Bill, as it originally stood, only required an affidavit that the person making it had reasonable ground to suspect that these books were kept for sale and exhibition. The Bill as now amended, required that the complainant should swear that he had reason to believe, and did believe, that these books or prints were kept in store for sale or exhibition. Another Amendment enacted that the complainant should set forth the facts on which he entertained that belief, and if the justice were satisfied on these facts that the books and prints were kept as alleged, he might issue his search-warrant, with this additional guard—that he must be satisfied they were such books and prints as that their publication would constitute a misdemeanour by the common law. There was also this further security, that the magistrate must not only be satisfied that the publication of these books and prints was a misdemeanour, but a misdemeanour which ought to be prosecuted by indictment. He had been asked what he proposed to do with these indecent publications, and he therefore proposed that after condemnation they should be burnt or otherwise destroyed. He would not enter into details of the appalling extent to which the sale of these publications was carried, but would move that the House do now resolve itself into a Committee on the said Bill.

Motion agreed to. House in Committee accordingly.


said, he would ask their Lordships to agree to the clauses pro formâ, in order that the Amendments he had made might be printed.


suggested that the Bill should make it an indictable offence against the party in whose possession these books and prints were discovered, if a jury found that they were kept for sale.


said, it had been held by the Court of Queen's Bench that it was an indictable offence to procure these books and prints for circulation, just as it was an offence to procure false coin for circulation. He therefore held it unnecessary to introduce such a provision; but if his noble and learned Friend thought otherwise he had no objection to adopt the suggestion.

Amendments made: the Report thereof to be received on Monday next.

House adjourned at a Quarter past Seven o'clock, to Monday next, Eleven o'clock.