HL Deb 13 July 1857 vol 146 cc1355-63

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


in rising to move the third reading of this Bill, said, he felt it to be his duty to call the attention of their Lordships to a letter conveying information of a nature the most appalling in reference to the subject to which the Bill related. The letter to which he referred had been written by Mr. Pritchard, secretary to the Society for the Suppression of Vice, a gentleman of great intelligence and of high honour, who had been for many years most zealously engaged in the endeavour to suppress those publications against which he (Lord Campbell) asked their Lordships to legislate, Mr. Pritchard had written to him as follows:— My Lord,—I have gone through the records of the prosecutions instituted by the society, for the sale or exposure of obscene publications, during the last fifty-five years. The total number during that period is 159, or within a very small fraction of three every year. Out of these 159 cases there have been but five acquittals, and the terms of imprisonment, varying from fourteen days to two years, average eight months each within six days and a-half. But in this calculation of the duration of the terms of imprisonment, no allowance is made for the circumstance that, in many of the earlier instances, to imprisonment was added the pillory, and, after the latter mode of punishment was given up, a fine. But it must always be borne in mind that the number of cases in which the society has prosecuted by no means represents the cases that have occurred. I may safely say that it has not been in one case in six brought under the society's notice in which they have been able to prosecute, chiefly from the heavy expenses attending a prosecution. I believe that one case in ten would be nearer to the truth, but I am anxious not to fall into any exaggeration. About the year 1834, there were no less than fifty-seven of these shops existing in London at one time, and no exertions that the society has been able to make have reduced these below from eighteen to twenty, which represents the number of shops that may be considered as permanently opened for this abominable traffic. It is also known that a system exists of sending out men from London, who periodically visit the different country towns, and attend the different fairs, races, and markets to circulate these abominations as their regular trade. One man died, not long since, while under imprisonment on a conviction obtain- ed by the society, who regularly visited the two Universities twice a year with a stock of highly-finished French prints far exceeding, if it be possible, the books that have generally been brought before the criminal courts. To show the immense stock of these things which the dealers have been able to collect, in the year 1845, from one dealer, who was permitted by the Central Criminal Court to retract his plea of 'Not Guilty,' and plead 'Guilty,' were taken no less than 12,346 prints, 393 books, 351 copper plates, 88 lithographic stones, and 33½ cwt. of letterpress. And from another, in the same year, 15,300 prints, 162 books, 1 cwt. of letterpress, 96 copper plates, 21 lithographic stones, and 114 lb. of stereotype. And within two years afterwards both of these men had again accumulated large stocks. Part of the stocks above enumerated were given up, and part the society was enabled to take under circumstances that cannot be expected to occur again. I may further mention that there are two men upon the society's list, one of whom has been prosecuted not fewer than nine times, and the other seven times. The truth is, that the trade is so lucrative that the dealers can well afford the risk of an occasional imprisonment. While their stocks are safe, their families can carry on their trade till their term of imprisonment expires, when they return to their old practices with increased experience of the modes by which the operation of the law may be eluded. And the only chance of success is to make this traffic a losing speculation. That was the present state of that abominable traffic, and he was afraid that there would be no means of checking it, unless a similar power was given to search for and seize those detestable publications as was given in the case of uncustomed goods, unlicensed printing places, and implements of gaming. All that he asked their Lordships to do was to grant a similar power, but with considerable modification to that which already existed in other cases. There was another subject to which he wished to refer before sitting down. He had been informed that on the second reading of the Bill he had been understood to make use of an expression of an insulting and offensive character to his noble and learned Friend opposite (Lord Lyndhurst). He could only say that, if such was the case, it was without any intention of doing so, and without being in the slightest degree aware that anything which he said could be construed as being offensive to his noble and learned Friend; if, however, he had inadvertently let fall anything which might possibly be so construed, he begged most fully and entirely to retract it, and to express regret that he had said anything which might bear such a construction. His noble and learned Friend on that occasion had done no more than his duty, and he had since then rendered material assistance in amending the Bill, and for that he begged leave to return thanks to his noble and learned Friend. There was one other subject to which he wished to refer. He had on a previous day referred to a book which he stated had been purchased at a railway station, and which contained a catalogue of a great number of most improper works for sale. Now, the Messrs. Smith, who had a contract for supplying books at all the principal railway stations of England, and who were persons of the very highest respectability, were naturally much hurt at the supposition that they should in any way be concerned in circulating that which was improper at any railway station, and he had received a letter informing him that the Messrs. Smith were at all times most sincerely anxious that no improper publication should be sold at any station at which they had any control. He could only add that to that statement he attached most perfect credence, from the high opinion which he entertained of the respectability of the Messrs. Smith.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.


said, that he ventured, the moment his noble and learned Friend produced that book, to say that it had never been sold by the authority of the Messrs. Smith. He knew those gentlemen very well, and he did not suppose that there were more unlikely persons in the world to assist in the circulation of such a publication. They had devoted much time to the examination of the subject, and undoubtedly they had been the means of diffusing throughout the country an immense body of the purest literature. Indeed, their collection was as pure as that contained in the most select library in the country. He was anxious to vindicate the reputation of the Messrs. Smith, whom he must characterise as truly Christian gentlemen, utterly incapable of doing an unworthy act.


As I have not been able to attend upon the various stages through which this Bill has passed, I wish to take this opportunity, now that it has arrived at its last stage, of offering a few observations with regard to it. Before doing so, however, I beg to acknowledge the full and proper manner in which my noble and learned Friend, the Lord Chief Justice, has atoned for what I considered to be most offensive words which he uttered with regard to myself on the second reading of this Bill. I did not hear those words myself, because I have the misfortune to labour under physical infirmity, but they were repeated to me by different friends, upon whose accuracy I most completely rely, and certainly they were of a most offensive nature. I apprehend, however, that my noble and learned Friend is not always aware of the effect of the expressions which he uses. My noble and learned Friend has been so accustomed to relate degrading anecdotes of his predecessors in office, that I am afraid his feelings upon those subjects have become somewhat blunted; and I am the more confirmed in that opinion from a circumstance which occurred not long ago. My noble and learned Friend, in a publication which he recently gave to the world, inserted two or three paragraphs of a nature by no means complimentary to myself, and having done so, he selects the particular volume containing those paragraphs from the whole set and sends it to me as a present, with the author's compliments. I conclude, therefore, that my noble and learned Friend does not, upon all occasions, understand the force of the expressions which he uses. Why, immediately after the division had taken place the other evening, my noble and learned Friend, after having uttered expressions with regard to myself more degrading to the utterer than to the person against whom they were directed, came over to me with a smiling face, and asked me to amend his Bill. I consented to do so, and suggested those Amendments which have since been introduced. I will now, however, say a few words upon the Bill itself, because certain misrepresentations have been made as to what I stated on the second reading. My principle objection to the Bill was, that it was so wide, so extensive, so loose, and so vague, that it would give rise to every kind of abuse; and I illustrated the vexation to which it might lead by several instances—I might have taken many stronger cases—which I submitted to the consideration of your Lordships; and I ended by saying, that no publisher, no print-seller, would be safe from vexation under this Bill as it then stood. I will give you a sample of its provisions. A man makes an affidavit that some one—he does not Bay who—has reason to suspect that there are improper publications at such a house. Upon that vague surmise a warrant is issued, the effect of which will be, that at any hour of the day, or any hour of the night, an officer may go into the house, search every room, every bedroom, even the beds in which women are lying, because they may conceal improper publications, break open, or order to be opened, every drawer and every closet in the house, and after all it may turn out that there is nothing to be found; but the householder will have no remedy for all this vexation. I am not saying that that is the Bill as it stands at present, but that was the Bill which the Lord Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench presented to your Lordships for your approbation; and then I was rebuked for opposing it. In the name of common sense could I do otherwise than oppose a Bill drawn in such a monstrous shape? But that is not all. That was the first clause of the Bill. According to the second no affidavit was required. The report of a mere superintendent of police that he believed there were improper publications in a house would give rise to all the vexation to which I have referred. Under these circumstances, I think I shall stand justified for having opposed the second rending of the Bill. My noble and learned Friend has repeatedly said, "Oh! these are not the objects I have in view," and in a kind of deprecatory tone, "I do not mean anything of the kind." Why, it is not what the Chief Justice means—but what is the construction of the Act of Parliament? The construction of the Act of Parliament is such as I have stated, and nobody can deny that it will lead, or may lead, to the vexation which I have described. Now, as to this question of vexation. It is said that no bookseller or printseller of respectability will ever have his premises opened and searched under a Bill of this description. Is that so? Some time ago there occurred a case of this description. A man named Hetherington published some low and blasphemous publications at a penny a-piece; he was tried, and was sentenced to four months' imprisonment. When in prison, he employed one of his dependents to go about to the shops of different booksellers and see whether he could find anything that could be made the subject of a prosecution. This man went to the shops of a bookseller named Moxon, a publisher of great respectability; a bookseller named Otley; and a third whose name I do not remember. A short time before, the widow of Bysshe Shelley had published a new edition of his works, including all the pieces which he had written, some of them at the age of 18. Hetherington picked out some passages from these works and indicted Moxon, Otley, and the other person, for publishing and selling them. The indictment was removed by certiorari into the Court of Queen's Bench and tried before a special jury. Lord Denman, who presided, after very severely censuring the course which had been pursued, said that he must put this question to the jury, "Are these particular passages blasphemous libels or not?" The jury found that they were. Lord Denman imposed only a nominal penalty, but the prosecution was of the severest kind, because every one must know that an indictment preferred at the quarter sessions, removed by certiorari into the Queen's Bench and tried by a special jury, must operate as a very heavy punishment. I mention this case in order to show the necessity for so framing this Bill as to guard against vexatious proceedings. The Amendments which I suggested and which I drew were framed with that object and for that purpose. As the Bill originally stood, any person making an affidavit that there was reason to suspect, &c., laid the foundation for a warrant. I have now provided that the person shall swear that he has reason to believe, and that he does believe, that there are such publications in such a place, and shall further state to the magistrate the reasons which lead to that belief. Nor does it stop there. The most material Amendment is, that he must state what the publications are, and that they are of such a nature that, if published, the party publishing them will be guilty of a misdemeanour. The magistrate must also be satisfied that the case is a proper one for a prosecution, so that if indecent passages were taken out of such authors as Dryden or Pope, he would say, "Although these are very indecent passages, and ought never to have been inserted in these works, yet this is not a case for a prosecution." I hope, my lords, that I have justified the course which I pursued. I thought the-Bill badly constructed, and I opposed it on that account. I saw that it would lead to vexatious proceedings, and I stated why it would do so. When my noble and learned Friend asked me to amend the Bill, I amended it in that sense, not for the purpose of defeating the measure, but to guard against the evil of which I complained, with which the Bill in its original form was pregnant, and the existence of which everybody admitted. I am sorry to have detained your lordships with this explanation, but so many misapprehensions and misapplications of what fell from me have gone abroad, that I have felt as though I were upon my trial, and that I was imperatively called upon to justify myself. I hope the statement which I have made is perfectly satisfactory to your Lordships.


admitted that the Bill had been much improved by the Amendments which had been introduced into it, but he could not recognize the necessity for introducing a system of domiciliary visits, which had always been considered contrary to the principle and spirit of the law of England. It was necessary, he thought, if such provisions were made, that the magistrates should be enabled to judge of the necessity of the proceeding, and that not only the belief but the ground of the belief should be laid before them. He believed that the object of his noble and learned Friend might be fully attained by the augmentation of the punishment for publishing these libels. Having been for twenty-eight years concerned in the administration of justice, and never to his recollection having had a case of this kind before him either in London or on circuit, he had thought that the mischief was not of great extent. His noble and learned Friend had read a statement of what had been done during the last fifty-five years, and he could not help thinking that in the last case mentioned in it the prosecution had been attended with great success. He was therefore disposed to think that an augmentation of the punishment would be sufficient to put a stop to the business of selling these infamous publications. [Lord CAMPBELL said he had sentenced persons to two years' imprisonment.] He did not mean to blame his noble and learned Friend for the sentence which he had passed upon offenders, but he did not think that the common law had been allowed a fair chance of success. He should therefore be glad to assist his noble and learned Friend to make the law more severe. We could not return to the pillory, but why should not the sellers of these publications be imprisoned and flogged? He was most anxious to put a stop to this infamous traffic, but thought that that might be accomplished without the introduction of domiciliary visits, for which there was no precedent in the common law.


said, that he had been very much impressed with the difficulties which would be found to stand in the way of carrying this Bill into exe- cution when it was first introduced, and though he could not say that those difficulties were entirely removed by the Amendments which his noble and learned "Friend (Lord Lyndhurst) who had just left the House had introduced into it, still, after the information which the noble and learned lord who had charge of the Bill had read to the House of the great number of persons who had been prosecuted for this offence without any satisfactory result, they were bound to listen with great deference to any suggestion of his noble and learned Friend for an improvement of the law in this respect. As the Bill now stood, these search-warrants would only be granted after great precautions, and, considering that the offence was on the increase rather than on the decrease, it would be unwise not to pass this Bill.


was understood to say that throughout he had felt the greatest anxiety for the fate of the Bill. He must confess that up to that evening he had fancied that a little misplaced sympathy on the part of some of their lordships had been evinced towards the publication of these obscene prints. His fears, however, on that point had now vanished. In conclusion, the right rev. Prelate tendered to Lord Campbell his thanks, and those of his right rev. Brethren, for his exertions in this cause.


said, he was highly gratified to find that the Bill was likely to pass through their Lordships' House, notwithstanding the opposition which was made to the second reading. He regretted exceedingly that, after what he conceived to be his ample apology to his noble and learned Friend, he should have thought it necessary to express himself in such harsh terms. His noble and learned Friend must have been misinformed as to what he had said upon a former occasion, for he was sure that he had made use of no expressions calculated to raise such feelings in his noble and learned Friend's most liberal and just mind. All that he had said upon that occasion was to assure his noble and learned Friend that, as he had talked with so much delight of certain works of Correggio and of the prints from them, there was nothing in this Bill which would disturb his enjoyment of them, and that he had not the slightest idea of saying anything which could be in the least degree offensive. With, regard to his noble and learned Friend's observations upon him as a biographer, he appealed to the public on that question, and that was not the place to raise a discussion upon it. He hoped his noble and learned Friend would find a chronicler who would justify every action of his life, and would prove him to have ever been a consistent politician. He trusted that the Bill would soon pass into law, and that the time would soon come when Holywell Street would become the abode of honest, industrious handicraftsmen, and a thoroughfare through which any modest woman might pass.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 3a accordingly and passed, and sent to the Commons.