HL Deb 12 July 1910 vol 6 cc96-106


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a Bill which I submit in the hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading, and I think I shall not be disappointed in this hope. The object of the Bill is to strengthen the law against the publication of improper advertisements. The first and last Bill on this subject became law in 1889. It was introduced in this House in 1888, and was piloted through in the following year by an eminent philanthropist whose name we all revere, Lord Meath; and it met with no opposition, so far as my recollection goes, in either House of Parliament. The provisions of that Bill were designed to prevent the custom which had obtained for many years of posting objectionable placards and advertisements up and down the country.

Prior to the passing of the Indecent Advertisements Act of 1889 anybody who wished to do so was absolutely at liberty to post these objectionable papers, not only in places where they might be expected to be placed and where they would have been out of sight of the general public, but also along the highways and byways of this country. I say advisedly the byways, because not only on the turnpike roads were these advertisements displayed, but actually in country lanes. They became, therefore, doubly and trebly conspicuous because of the fact that they were the only printed matter in these county places, which one would have hoped would have been protected from intrusion. That was the state of affairs prior to 1889; but when the Act of that year became law these objectionable advertisements disappeared like magic from one end of the country to the other. That Act, therefore, did an immense amount of good. It went very far, but it did not go quite far enough, in the opinion of those who support the measure now before your Lords-ships, because it did not prevent the introduction of objectionable matter of the kind which is detailed in this Bill, and which I need not refer to further, into newspapers and leaflets. There has been an appalling increase of that kind of literature in this country. I am sure that that nebulous personage the historian of the future, to whose unwritten records appeal is so often made, will find it incredible to believe that such a state of things could have existed in a European country. I think that this Bill, the general scope of which I have sketched, will go a great way, together with the Act of 1889, to put a stop to this evil. The newspapers referred to are not, of course, the general public newspapers, but there are every kind and every degree of publication from the highest to the lowest possible class; and in addition to newspapers there are leaflets and circulars, or what might possibly be dignified by the name of magazines—half-penny magazines—in circulation. At committees and meetings to which these matters have been referred prior to the bringing forward in Parliament of this Bill some of these publications have been handed round, and have certainly made a very unfavourable impression.

The Act of 1889 has had considerable effect in preventing the distribution of certain classes of unsavoury advertisements; but the definition of indecent advertisements in that Act has been found not to be wide enough to cover a number of advertisements of a character similar to those struck at by the Act. And while powers exist under the Post Office Protection Act of 1884 for preventing the circulation of such matter by post, there are no adequate or summary means of suppressing the publication in newspapers of advertisements which it is illegal to distribute in the streets. I do not think there will be any objection in this House to the principle of the Bill. On the contrary, I feel certain that your Lordships will welcome it and wish it godspeed, not only here but in another place, and will desire it to become law as soon as possible.

There is only one difficulty, perhaps, and it is contained in Clause 3, subsection (5), in which, in the case of a medical man writing a bonâ fide medical or scientific treatise or book of any kind on these topics, the onus probandi as to the literary character of the work or the bonâ fide medical or scientific character of the treatise is placed on the writer. Your Lordships must bear in mind that no prosecution can be instituted without the previous consent in writing of the chief officer of police of the district in which the offence is alleged to have been committed, or of two Justices of the Peace, or of a stipendiary magistrate having jurisdiction in such district. That is in addition to the consent of the Public Prosecutor, and I do not think any difficulty is likely to arise under that enactment. Therefore I commend the Bill to your Lordships, and I hope that at the date mentioned in the last clause—namely, the first day of January next year—it may find a place on the Statute Book of this country.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord Braye.)


My Lords, the noble Lord says truly that this House will sympathise with the principle and objects of the Bill the Second Reading of which he has just moved, but the Bill itself, I venture to suggest, should be approached with a great deal of caution. Neither the Memorandum to the Bill nor the speech of the noble Lord has really dealt with everything that the Bill contains. In addition to striking at these advertisements the Bill contains a rather important provision in Clause 2 which was not alluded to by the noble Lord. That these advertisements and any public exhibition of things of this kind should be put down I think we agree, and we have all been able to recognise the good done by the previous Act; but while the object of this Bill will command sympathy, the drafting of its provisions is open to some little criticism. I should be sorry to see it in its present form placed upon the Statute Book, and I should be glad to hear that the noble Lord did not propose to do more than obtain a pious assent to the general principle to-night, without carrying the Bill in its present shape much further.


I hope the noble Earl will pardon me for pointing out that the provision depends on the words "shall exhibit to public view." It is exhibition which is aimed at in this clause.


If your Lordships will look at the marginal note to Clause 2 you will see that it provides a "penalty for exhibiting certain appliances of an improper character." The opening words are, "Whosoever shall exhibit to public view in any house or shop …" Unless the word "exhibit" is to be taken to have a technical meaning and to mean an exhibition to which the public are invited, it would render liable to a penalty any person who accidentally exposed any of these things in any portion of a dwelling-house or in a bedroom.


I think it is to be taken to mean exhibit for sale.


I do not wish to discuss the details across the floor of the House if I can help it, but I think your Lordships will see that this as it stands really does not hit the very mischief intended to be aimed at. What is probably intended to be aimed at is the exposure of these things for sale in the street or in a shop window, so that they meet the eye of the passer-by when he does not wish to see them and are forced upon his attention. It is to be noted—I think it is an entirely new departure—that certain things are included connected with Malthusian practices which I think require some little consideration before they are dealt with exactly on the same level as the other mischief aimed at in the Bill.

It is to be noted, too, that by Clause 3, subsection (4), there is to be no prosecution without the previous consent in writing of the chief officer of police of the district in which the offence is alleged to have been committed, or of two Justices of the Peace. I do not know whether it is usual to put in a sanction of that character to a prosecution. With sanction by the Attorney-General, or perhaps the Public Prosecutor, one is fairly well acquainted, but there is no precedent for a provision of this kind, and it is doubtful whether it is desirable in that form.

As to the provision in subsection (5) to which the noble Lord called attention, I do not altogether object to the onus of proof being thrown upon the person who is defending a publication to show that it is a bonâ fide medical or scientific treatise; it must depend ultimately on the common-sense of the Court that tries the question. I recollect, and I read with some care, the Report of the Committee presided over by the noble Earl on the Front Bench which dealt with this matter. This Bill does not quite agree with the Report of that Committee, and I think the noble Lord must feel that if it is to go further the enacting words of the Bill will require careful scrutiny.


My Lords, I wish to say a few words in support of the Second Reading of this Bill, not so much in my individual capacity, but as Chairman of the Public Morality Council for London, which includes every Christian denomination and the Jewish community. It is really our Bill which the noble Lord has been good enough to introduce. I should like to make plain the great good that has been done by the Act which was piloted through by Lord Meath. It is twenty-one years since the Indecent Advertisements Act became law. It has worked well and has been extremely beneficial in London; but it became plain, as so often happens, that there were certain loopholes in the Act. I hold in my hand most disgusting advertisements, with the reading of which I will not defile your Lordships' ears, which it has been found impossible to deal with under the existing Act. A public agitation was carried on for some four or five years eventuating in the appointment of a Joint Committee. After very careful investigation that Committee reported, and in their Report they pointed out that the Act did not make it an offence to circulate such advertisements as these in the shape of handbills inserted in books and magazines sold to the public, and also that the Act did not refer to advertisements printed in newspaper periodicals. The Joint Committee pointed out the loophole in the Act which the Bill before your Lordships seeks to fill.

There was also another defect. Clause 3 of this Bill simply makes good an omission in the previous Act. At the present time while it is an offence to distribute or send through the post handbills advertising certain drugs or offering for sale certain mechanical appliances, the same handbill can be printed and circulated in a newspaper and the present Act cannot be brought to bear. To have such advertisements in newspapers which circulate among the masses of the people is an evil infinitely greater than the handbills, and the clause simply extends the prohibition to newspapers. I can only say, on behalf of the Council I represent, that we very seldom come here for help in our efforts in the cause of morality. We only come to your Lordships' House to seek for help by means of legislation when some serious obstacle stands in our way and retards our work. I sincerely hope that your Lordships will give a Second Reading to this Bill, because I believe these advertisements which are scattered broadcast, and these shops exhibiting to public view these appliances, are most demoralising to unmarried people in making vice easy, and still more demoralising to young married people into whose hands they fall, and are degrading to public morality generally.


My Lords, as the author of the Bill which twenty-one years ago became the Act which it is now proposed to amend, it is a pleasure to me to hear that that Act has been of some service, and to read in the Memorandum attached to the Bill under discussion that the Act of 1889 has had considerable effect in preventing the distribution of certain classes of unsavoury advertisements. But an amendment of that Act is undoubtedly needed. I may say that 1 introduced certain words in the original Bill which would have prevented the possibility of these advertisements being issued in newspapers, but in its passage through Parliament those words were deleted. The noble Lord, Lord Braye, proposes to go still further than I did, and in doing that he has my most sympathetic support. It is not so very many years ago since a right rev. Prelate who is noted for his eloquence made a splendid speech in this House—the right rev. Prelate is present—on this very subject which has been alluded to of Malthusianism, and he pointed out the terrible effects which were taking place in the population owing to these doctrines advocating the restriction of the birth-rate. The evils which the right rev. Prelate pointed out in 1903 are very much greater now than they were at that time. The right rev. Prelate quoted an enormous mass of statistics on that occasion—I believe without any notes at all, to my extreme admiration—but one of the few figures I remember was that the birth-rate in the year 1876 was 36.3 and that in the year 1898 it was 29.4 per thousand. In 1907 we had gone further in a retrograde direction; and now the birth-rate is 26.3. The right rev. Prelate told us at that time—I think he took it front some figures given by Mr. Edward Cannon—that in 1880 the size of families was 4.34; at the end of 1890, 4.08; and at the end of 1900, 3.63. There are no figures that I know of that will absolutely show what the size of families now is, but if you take those proportions you find that about three is the size of the average family nowadays. In other words, there are about 2,000,000 less children in the land than there would have been if we had maintained the standard of these former years. The Registrar-General, in his last Report, says there can be little doubt that much of this is due to wilful restriction in child-bearing. I think it is most important, if we are to preserve not only the purity of our families but the very Empire itself, that we should take this matter into consideration. We own one fifth of the earth's surface, a great mass of which is quite capable of being filled up by people of the Anglo-Saxon race, and unless we are prepared to accept that duty and to fill those lands the British Empire cannot last. It is late, and I do not intend to detain your Lordships further than to say that we have recently heard, and I am sure all of us with great pleasure, words coming from the very highest quarter. Those words made a great impression upon me when I read them. They were— The foundations of national glory are set in the homes of the people. They will only remain while the family life of our race and nation is strong, simple, and pure. I hope, my Lords, we shall to-night do something to assist in making the family life of this nation strong, simple, and pure.


My Lords, I am very glad indeed, on behalf of His Majesty's Government. to express general approval of the principle of the Bill which the noble Lord has introduced. I had the honour some years ago of being Chairman of the Committee to which reference has already been made by the noble and learned Earl behind me. The members of the Committee realised the need of further legislation on the subject, and we did indeed definitely recommend the passing of a Bill which would consolidate and amend the existing law as well as extend it in some directions. It was brought rather forcibly to our minds that the whole subject should be dealt with in a single Bill if possible, and that the laws already existing should be consolidated. We did not feel that the matter would otherwise be adequately dealt with. The Home Office are entirely sympathetic with the objects and principle of this Bill, and I believe Lord Gladstone, before he left office, had intended to introduce a Bill on the lines recommended by our Committee, but the state of public business at the time did not allow him to proceed with the matter. I am, however, able to say that the present Home Secretary takes the same view as his predecessor did as to the desirability of legislation on this subject, and he hopes to be able to take the whole matter into consideration. I think, therefore, with this intimation we may give the Bill of the noble Lord a Second Reading, but I hope he will not press it beyond that stage.

There is a caveat which I desire to enter in connection with the matter. The objection which is felt by the Home Office to the Bill is that it only deals with a portion and not with the whole of the question. The subject is much larger than might be inferred from merely looking at the Memorandum and the Bill as introduced by the noble Lord. In our opinion what is really wanted is a consolidating and amending Bill dealing with the whole subject, and it is with a Bill of that kind that. His Majesty's Government hope to proceed on a subsequent occasion. In those circumstances, and in view of the condition of business in another place and also here, I venture to submit to the noble Lord whether there is any prospect of proceeding successfully with the Bill during the present session. There is a good deal to be said, which I will not trouble your Lordships with at the present time, upon the wording of the Bill, which is, in the opinion of the Home Office, very faulty and needs considerable amendment. If the noble Lord was to proceed to Committee stage His Majesty's Government, if it was likely that the Bill would pass into law, would be obliged to make a very large number of alterations in it. I venture to hope, therefore, that having passed the Second Reading of the Bill this afternoon in order to show our general sympathy with the noble Lord, he will be satisfied with that step for the present; and if he will be so good as to place himself in communication with the Home Office—and I address the same invitation to the right rev. Prelate—I am sure that Department will be very glad indeed to consider anything placed before them, and to take both the noble Lord and the right rev. Prelate into consultation before bringing in that larger Bill to which I have referred.


My Lords, I hope I may be allowed for a few moments to trouble your Lordships with one or two observations on this matter. The noble Earl who has just sat down expressed a hope that this Bill will be given a Second Reading. I do earnestly trust that that will be the case. Butt some sentences that fell from him seemed to foreshadow modifications, and one would be very glad to know what direction those modifications are likely to take. I sincerely trust that there will be no modification of those parts of the Bill which in any way touch on what we generally call the practice of restriction of population in this country. As the noble Earl who sits on the Cross Benches has reminded us, this subject is one of supreme and Imperial importance.

According to the Registrar-General's returns of the last census it is reckoned that the loss to this country in the birthrate represented two per cent. in thirty years. But, my Lords, that was followed by what seems to me a far more important fact which marked a far more dangerous condition of affairs, namely, that the loss of birth force—that is a technical phrase but it expresses a well-known meaning—was 19.5 per cent. Now if it is the fact that there is this great diminution of birth force going on in this country I think we ought to take care that in a Bill of this sort we do put on record our determined hostility to those practices which are calculated to bring about a further diminution of the birthrate. May I point out what is the real danger, which is combated, I think, by this Bill? I have made inquiries in various towns where the population is large. I will take time Midland towns for the purposes of illustration, and select Nottingham, Birmingham, Leicester, and Derby as representing the Midlands. From inquiries I made in those towns from those who were in an official position and able to speak authoritatively on the subject, I find that the use of diachylon or oleate of lead, generally given out in the form of pills, is very frequent in every one of those localities. When I go to the great seaports of Bristol and Hull I find the same sort of report. When I go to Salford the same thing is expressed as being true, and when I pass to Sunderland I am told that in the view of the chemists this practice is one which is alarming in its extent. As a result of advertisements in the newspapers many persons carry out the practice which leads to the restriction of population by means of what really is a. systematic course of lead poisoning.

Your Lordships may not be aware of all the significance of that word "diachylon." For my own part I wish it could be brought within the scope of legislation to put diachylon amongst those scheduled drugs which ought not to be sold by chemists without special permit. The use of diachylon means that a process of lead poisoning is resorted to by those mothers who desire to avoid the birth of the child. It means, therefore, not only what is commonly called race suicide, but much more than that, for it must be remembered that every time the birth of a child is stopped in this way the mother-strength of the country is being seriously impaired. The use of this drug, in whatever form it is given, in the long run tends to undermine the health and the strength of the woman who takes it, arid, according to the outspoken record of the medical officer of health for Nottingham, who knows how widespread the practice is, this is a form of poisoning which leads to blindness, paralysis, insanity, and even death. Case after case has occurred in many quarters, not only in the Midlands but in the East of London; and your Lordships will find in the British Medical Journal and elsewhere reports of such cases and of prosecutions which have sometimes followed.

The decline of the birth-rate and the undermining of women's health are a serious national evil, and as surely as the practice I have spoken of prevails so surely will the evil exist. The practice is one which is brought to the notice of the inexperienced girl, or the ignorant young married woman, by means of specious advertisements— advertisements which suggest to the ignorant that some kind-spirited, soft hearted, generous minded person is prepared to give motherly help to poor unfortunate women who are driven to seek help by the hard circumstances of necessity. In this way these poisonous pills are sold and consumed to the detriment of health and to the destruction of the population that might be. My Lords, these things are far too serious for us to treat by, shall I call them, hypothetical clauses in a Bill. I rise for the purpose of urging that, whatever other change is going to be made, those words which touch this question of the restriction of population should be emphasised in the Bill, because in this day of national history we cannot afford to stand by and see methods adopted which tend to the diminution of our population and to the impairment of the moral energy of the Empire.


My Lords, after what has been stated by the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, I will not press for the Committee Stage to be taken at the present time. I quite concur in what has been said with reference to proceeding with this Bill, and for my part I shall be only too glad to see the ample Bill which he alluded to brought in by the Government.

On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.