HL Deb 16 July 1925 vol 62 cc130-59

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill I would ask for the patience of the House, because it is impossible to lay before you in a few words the extent of the evil or the nature of the remedies proposed. The Bill is no invention of mine. It is really the Bill introduced into the House of Commons by Sir Evelyn Cecil, and it has been found impossible, owing to the pressure of business there, to proceed as he wished to do with the consideration of this measure. The Bill which he introduced followed upon one introduced some two or three years ago, which was referred to a Select Committee, and this one is the consequence of the evidence taken before that Committee and of the report which the Committee made. This Bill was backed in another place by many members of various Parties. It would perhaps be worth while to mention them. I have not the Bill here, but I know it is backed by members of the Liberal Party and by members of the Labour Party standing high in the counsels of that Party who had been Ministers in the late Administration. Therefore I think it comes before this House and before the public with a great weight of authority in its favour. It is not the mere fantastic proposal of a single member.

It will be necessary, I think, to go a little into the history of this matter. I should not have taken it up, but that after one or two notorious recent cases I was spoken to by representatives of foreign countries resident and representing their countries here, as to the great evil which was done to England by the publication of details of those cases. I was told by them that such publications were impossible in their own particular countries; that the people of those countries formed their opinion of this country from those publications and came to conclusions about us which those who spoke to me knew to be thoroughly unjustified. They, being resident in England and in high positions here, were aware of the character of the people of this country to an extent to which the ordinary residents on the Continent of Europe could not expect to be.

This Bill deals chiefly with the publication of the proceedings in the Divorce Court. It deals also with other matters, but principally with those. As I said, the evil has been widely known and long acknowledged. The Divorce Court was set up somewhere about 75 years ago and since that time the amount of detail published in regard to cases tried there has increased day by day. It has been assisted by science in the form of photography and moving pictures, and so it is far worse than it was when the Divorce Court had been but recently established. Yet it is worth noticing, I think, that so long ago as December 26, 1859, Queen Victoria wrote a letter on this subject to Lord Campbell, who was then Lord Chancellor. This will be found in "The Letters of Queen Victoria," at page 482 of the third volume of the book published in 1897 by Mr. Murray. There the letter to Lord Campbell is given and, if your Lordships would permit me, I would read a few passages from it. The Queen said this:— The Queen wishes to ask the Lord Chancellor whether no steps can be taken to prevent the present publication of the proceedings before the new Divorce Court. These cases, which must necessarily increase when the new law becomes more and more known, fill now almost daily a large portion of the newspapers and are of so scandalous a character that it makes it o almost impossible for a paper to be trusted in the hands of a young lady or a boy. Now if that was true in December, 1859, how much more flagrant is the abuse to-day. There can be, I think, no question about it.

I do not propose to read to your Lordships extracts from these papers. It is bad enough that they should be read once. I only appeal to your Lordships' own knowledge of what is published as to whether it is not true to say that, as Her Majesty anticipated, the evil has grown out of all proportion since that letter was written. The Queen concluded by saying that the effect of these publications must be most pernicious to the public morals of the country. Again I appeal to your Lordships, seeing what is going on, is it not obvious that the public morals of the country are worse than they were? Who can doubt that the familiarising of all manner of persons with these disgusting cases is greatly to blame for the present deterioration of public morals? What did the Lord Chancellor do? Lord Campbell wrote back to Her Majesty. The Editor does not give the letter, but he says that Lord Campbell wrote to Her Majesty to say that he had attempted in the last Session to introduce a measure to give effect to the Queen's wish and, having been defeated, he was helpless to prevent the evil. And so the evil persists, and in a grosser shape.

I have looked at what Lord Campbell did. The debate is to be found in the Session before this letter was written. What Lord Campbell did was to propose, in a Divorce Bill then before the House, to provide that all these cases should be heard in camera—in secret. Various noble Lords spoke upon this subject, which is one which necessarily divides opinion rather sharply, and the end of it was that the Lord Chancellor said that he could not stop it in that way. The present Bill does not affect to provide such a remedy as that. It is a totally different one, as your Lordships will see when I come to it. All this time having elapsed since 1859, this Select Committee was appointed and many witnesses were called before them. The Committee made a Report in which, on page 8, are these words: If, as we do not doubt, it is often the cumulative effect of evidence and statements, any of which would not be liable under the present law as being obscene, which do the mischief, the obvious remedy is to limit the publication of evidence and statements. That is the remedy now proposed—to limit the publication of evidence and of statements. The Report goes on:— The pernicious transformation of sordid stories into epics for profit cannot really be restrained in any other way. And the Committee conclude their Report with these words:— Your Committee think that if a choice has to be made the high standard of national character must be chosen. That means rather than permit these things to be published for profit. It is for that that they are published. They are not, in a Blue-book published by quite different people.

Before this Committee many witnesses were called and, among others, Mr. Frederick Peaker, President of the Institute of Journalists. His evidence is on page 72 of the Report of the evidence taken by the Select Committee. He was asked:— Have the Council of the Institute taken any action in this matter up to now? A.—On the 10th March of the present year the Council of the Institute passed the following Resolution:— 'Whilst prepared to offer determined resistance to any attempt at censorship of the Press, the Council of the Institute of Journalists place on record their strong disapproval of the increasing tendency in newspaper reports to publish and give undue prominence to nauseous and intimate details of divorce petitions and of murders and of other criminal cases.' and it referred the question to the Executive with a view to such further action as may be considered advisable. I venture to think that no proof could be stronger of the necessity for some such measure as this. That is the evidence of a man respected in the business of journalism, and he gives also the opinion of the Institute as to the necessity for a remedy being found. A little further on he was asked:— Is it owing to competition that no agreement is possible? A.—I think it is owing to the fact that big circulations have been built up on this sort of thing. Is it expedient that such a business as this should be allowed to flourish and increase?

There are many businesses in this country which it has been found necessary to regulate. The sale of poisons is regulated. What is this upon which the big circulations have been built but a most subtle, corroding, fatal poison. I would put the ground of prohibiting the circulation of these things on the same ground as that, upon which the Legislature forbids the open, public, unnecessary sale of poisons. Beyond that I have a cutting from a newspaper, and it is the only one I desire to read to your Lordships. It was sent to me the other day and it is from the Yorkshire Herald of the 10th of this month. In a leading article upon the subject of this Bill that newspaper said:— Few will deny that such an Act is overdue. The reports which have emerged from the Divorce Court during the last few years have done more harm to the public morals of this country than any other influence we can remember except the lewd novels and quasi-scientific books on sex matters generally written by women, which disgrace our literature and degrade the national character"— the very point taken by those who spoke to me before I touched this matter. The article goes on— So much will be admitted by all who can take an impartial view of the question. Under Lord Darling's Bill every material fact that it is necessary for the public to know could be given in reports of cases in the Court. All that would be excluded are those mephitic details the publication of which at inordinate length has sickened every decent-minded citizen. I know there are enemies of this Bill and therefore I must substantiate a little the ease for it. The article I am quoting from proceeds:— The people who are assailing the real liberty of the Press are those who have failed in the task of differentiating between what is salutary and what is harmful in a newspaper report. Some of the Sunday papers are the worst offenders. Who can doubt that? This is not an exaggerated statement. It is a statement by a great, respectable journal on its own authority writing of what it knows. I will only quote this further:— Some of the Sunday papers are the worst offenders. Those we have in mind have made great fortunes out of the garbage of the courts. It is rumoured that some newspapers are owned by members of your Lord-ships' House. If it were possible I think we should like, in the course of this debate, to hear what they have to say about a charge like that, and I hope we shall.

I began by reading the letter of Queen Victoria to the Lord Chancellor which said how great the evil was in her day. Might I venture—I cannot do it except in the language which those who come from Oxford speak to the Lord Chancellor and in which he replies to them—to remind your Lordships that it was written long ago: Aetas parentum, pejor avis, tulit Nos nequiores mox daturos Progeniem vitiosiorem. I can only hope that the result of this debate and I trust the passage of this Bill may be that the prophecy of Horace will not be fulfilled and that those who come after us will be better than we are. They need not be over-good then. I know it is said by some that there are already remedies for stopping what is obscene. Yes, there are. There is the old Common Law and there are certain Statutes and even the Newspaper Acts, which gave the Press great liberty but yet contained a proviso that the publication of indecent matter was not permitted. But there is a great difficulty in enforcing these particular remedies. I am glad to see my noble friend who was responsible not so long ago for the direction of public prosecutions in his place, and I hope he will tell your Lordships what he told you two or three years ago, why it is that the existing law has failed to put a stop to these fearful, degrading publications.

This Bill, in regard to these particular reports, does something which is new. These cases, such as were proceeded against under the Common Law or under some of the Statutes, must necessarily be tried by jury. This Bill proposes to make these proceedings take place before a magistrate and that a conviction should be a summary conviction. Why? Is it not necessary, if the public have become degraded, and what I have read tends to show that they have, that these particular citizens who are selected to sit on juries are not immune from this particular disease, and how can we send to them people who may be charged with these offences? It was mentioned by Sir Archibald Bodkin, the present Director of Public Prosecutions in the evidence he gave, that this fact was known, and it was known long before Sir Archibald Bodkin was born. If you will read Measure for Measure you will find this— The jury, passing on the prisoner's life, May, in the sworn twelve, have a thief or two Guiltier than him they try. How is it possible to say, when bringing cases like these before a jury of twelve people, many of whom on their way to the court have certainly been studying the particular case whose publication we desire to prevent, that they are in a position to give a fair and unbiassed consideration to the indictment.

The people who are brought before these courts, as is mentioned in the Report, have by the publication of their doings come, in many instances, to be regarded as heroes. There can be no doubt about it. Their portraits are as well known as though they were jockeys. In a chamber contiguous to this there is a cartoon which represents the woman taken in adultery. Your Lordships, I have no doubt, know it. The street very much resembles the Strand. There are pieces of granite and stones about convenient for lapidation, and the lesson it is intended to teach to the people is not to kill the woman by throwing stones at her. How different is the situation now. Instead of being punished, every act during the day she attends court is described, her dress is described, her photograph taken and she becomes a public heroine. There is no need now to tell the people not to be too hard on the woman taken in adultery. She is treated very much as one would desire to treat Joan of Arc or the Maid of Saragossa.

This Bill provides for the limiting of these reports in certain particulars. Paragraph (b) of Clause 1 says this— In relation to any judicial proceedings for dissolution of marriage, for nullity of marriage, or for judicial separation or proceedings before a court of summary jurisdiction in which an order for judicial separation is made or applied for, any particulars other than the following, that is to say:—

  1. (i) the names, addresses and description of the parties and witnesses;
  2. (ii) the grounds on which the proceedings are brought and resisted as set forth in the petition and answer and particulars thereof;
  3. (iii) submissions on any point of law arising in the course of the proceedings and the decision of the court thereon;
  4. (iv) the summing-up of the judge and the finding of the jury (if any) and the judgment of the court and observations made by the judge in giving judgment:
Provided that nothing in this part of this subsection shall be held to permit the publication of anything contrary to the provisions of paragraph (a) of this subsection. Penalties are provided for an infringement of these provisions if the Bill becomes law, but I need not go into them now. If they are too light or too heavy that is a question to be dealt with in Committee. I have already spoken longer than I intended and I do not want to overload the burden I have laid upon your Lordships' patience. All these things can easily be regulated when the Bill goes to Committee.

It might not be uninteresting, however, if I tell your Lordships something of the law in foreign countries. These proposals are not revolutionary, they are not proposals of an untried nature. In France, by the Code Civile, Article 239, which is dated April 18, 1886—this has been the law of France ever since—the Courts may order a charge to be heard in camera. That is exactly what this House would not do in the year 1859, when such a proposal was made by the then Lord Chancellor. But that was done in France, and it has been remarked that they order these things better in France, but I do not say that. A reproduction of the proceedings by means of the Press in regard to divorce is forbidden in France under a fine of from Frs.100 to Frs.2,000. In Article 250 of the Code Civile of the same year a préis of the judgment and order is to be displayed in the hall of the Courts, and a similar précis is to be published in certain newspapers which circulate in the neighbourhood. In Belgium witnesses in divorce cases are heard in camera. There no special order as to reporting them is needed; what the witnesses say is not said in public. As a matter of fact the, reports of all these eases are very meagre indeed. The practice is apparently the same in Switzerland and in the Netherlands. In New Zealand a Statute was passed in 1908, by which the Court might order the trial to be in chambers, that is, in secret, and might decide, whether the case was heard in chambers or in open court, whether the publication of the evidence should be allowed or forbidden.

I apologise to your Lordships for the length at which I have detained you, but this is, I think, a subject well worthy of the attention of this House and, because it cannot be adequately ventilated elsewhere, and for no other reason, I have ventured myself to lay the matter before your Lordships. I trust that, after the consideration of all the points—and I know that there are difficulties—this Bill will not only be read a second time but, so far as this House is concerned, whatever others may do, an example may be set and something may be done for public decency by passing this Bill through all its stages.

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


My Lords, my noble and learned friend was good enough to refer to me and, more or less, to invite me to say a few words to your Lordships this evening and to give my reasons for supporting, as I do most warmly support, this Bill as an attempt to deal with an evil which, I think, is recognised by nearly everyone in this country and in relation to which most people would be willing to assist any remedy, if such remedy can be found, which would be accepted by Parliament and would be likely to be effective. On April 24, 1923, this subject was discussed fairly fully in your Lordships' House on a Question put by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh. It was rather a remarkable debate in this sense, that noble Lords spoke from almost every part of the House and, though they differed, no doubt, on some points of detail, there was, I think, no voice raised that did not recognise that it was almost imperative that this question should be dealt with in some manner and that some endeavour should be made to check the terrible mischief that, as I personally have no doubt, arises from the dissemination of this horrible and cruel stuff from day to day among all classes in this country. You can find papers—I am not going to specify them—in which one short paragraph tells of things which may be vital to great interests, which may be of the utmost importance, side by side with four columns of reports of this character, with wholly unnecessary detail, which can be of no serious assistance to the cause of justice, which disgusts readers and is infinitely cruel to the parties concerned.

I notice that in that debate the Lord Chancellor, after very naturally making some observations as to the difficulties of this subject, went on to say:— I believe that attempts have been made in that direction, but hitherto without result. The other proposal that I made was that legislation should be introduced in another place by those gentlemen who were members of that House. I believe that effect will be given to that proposal and that my right hon. friend Sir Evelyn Cecil intends in a short time to introduce in another place a Bill for dealing with this matter. I feel sure that the introduction of such a measure will lead to the serious consideration of this question, and it may be that the feeeling in another place will be so strong that the measure will receive sanction there and will come up to your Lordships for consideration. Things have not worked out precisely in that way, but my right hon. friend Sir Evelyn Cecil has, I believe, introduced a Bill or, at any rate, there is a Bill before your Lordships which is on the lines of that which I know he suggested and desired.

I addressed your Lordship on the occasion of the debate upon Lord Balfour of Burleigh's Question, and I do not propose for a moment to repeat all that I said then, but I find that this is obviously a Bill which I should be hound, on my own words, to support, because I then, in reference to suggestions made by Lord Buckmaster, whom I wish we had with us to-night, used these words:— That which I would suggest is practically the same: that there should be published the names of the parties, the charges made, the result, and the report of any discussion on a point of law which arose in the course of the proceedings. I cannot see that the interests of public justice could possibly require any more than that. … That is very nearly, if not quite, the provision in the clause of this Bill which my noble and learned friend read to your Lordships, and I should be very glad if the measure could not only pass this House but pass into law in that form, or something like that form.

I do not believe that there is any hope that negotiations with the Press—a misleading word—could really produce any useful result. The Press is not an entity at all. It is a number of individuals who hold different views and have different standards, and that which we have heard to-night shows that you cannot proceed very far in that direction. If you did arrive at an agreement, unless it were put in legislative shape there would be no possibility of securing the carrying out of that agreement. I can see no remedy except legislation, and I can see little hope for legislation unless it has either the good offices or the direct action of His Majesty's Government. It is suggested—it is generally suggested on this question, as my noble and learned friend pointed out—that the existing law is sufficient to prevent indecency. I do not want to dogmatise—I do not think that I am a dogmatic person—but I should like to answer that simply in three words: It does not. I am convinced that this is really the truth of the matter.

I have had some experience in these eases and, to begin with, I do not know what the standard of indecency is. It varies in different generations. I remember that I was impelled very forcibly and very much against my will, if I may say so now, to institute a prosecution against a certain firm of publishers. I do not remember what the exact result was, or whether there was a conviction or not—I do not think there was—but I am quite sure that, if that standard of indecency were applied to-day, three or four out of every ten novels that are produced at present would have to be the subject of a prosecution. I remember another case in a totally different connection which concerned magistrates destroying indecent photographs. Proceedings were taken in two different police districts. One magistrate said that the things were grossly indecent—which I think they were—while the other magistrate said that they were most beautiful classical pictures and that it was a pity to do anything to suppress them. That is one reason.

The other is that the men who desire to publish this garbage are perfectly skilled in their profession and would not put anything in the paper that could possibly provide a foundation for the charge of indecency. It is by suggestion, it is by innuendo, it is by the publication of actual documents that they have not written but that are produced—that is the way it is done, and you cannot possibly found a prosecution for indecency upon that. It is a different evil; it is suggestion. I think it is incumbent on somebody in authority, if this measure is a measure that should be passed, to sit down and try to devise something the Government can support. I do not think there is any difference of opinion as to the harm it does and the scandal it is. I do not know that I am very hopeful; it is very difficult to be hopeful as it has been known for so long. Recent events, however, have shown that it is not at a standstill; it is growing. We all know the freedom that quite young people have and we know that they must run against all sorts of unsavoury things in their daily life, but they should not have these things forced under their noses. It is quite unnecessary. What possible service to justice can it do? What possible harm to justice could result if it was restrained? I do not believe anybody differs about that.

Another thing which has always struck me, very much is the immense cruelty to the people concerned. What are these divorce cases? They are the tragedies of lives that began happily and hopefully. It is cruel that these people should have everything about their past shouted in the streets, put on the placards and read by everybody, and that they should themselves be photographed at the trial. It is cruelty beyond words, especially on matters in which the public have no right to have an interest. It advantages justice in no way that I can see whatever. Indeed, it has rather the contrary effect. I have known cases in my own experience in which important witnesses, who ought to be called, have asked when they were asked for their statement: "Am I to give this evidence in court? Will my name be in the papers?" and when they were told that they must give evidence in court, they replied: "I will not tell you anything." I do not blame them; I think they are perfectly right. In that sense it is a detriment to justice. I have only said these few words to show why I warmly support this Bill, as I should warmly support any Bill to deal with this evil, which I regard as one of the greatest magnitude and calling for the attention of everyone in this country.


My Lords, this Bill has been explained very fully in the two able speeches which we have heard, but I look in vain for a clause in the Bill which will deal with judicial pleasantry on the Bench. There has been a great deal of judicial pleasantry with regard to a good many of these subjects in the Bill, about whose contents we have heard a great deal, and I think a clause inserted dealing with judicial pleasantry would have a great meaning.


My Lords, it is the fact that this Bill is, I believe, almost identical with one which has been introduced in another place. I do not think that any of your Lordships would complain on that ground of the action of my noble and learned friend in introducing the Bill here, because we all know that this House does afford opportunities for the discussion of matters of public interest which cannot always be obtained so readily in the other House. Therefore the noble Lord has quite naturally introduced his Bill here. The Bill is, of course, a Private Member's Bill, but the Government have naturally considered what their view of the Bill should be, and I will state quite shortly how the matter presents itself to me and, I believe, to my colleagues.

I think the case for a Bill is very strong. Everybody feels and admits that it is injurious to public morals that indecent matter should be published in our Press and so come into the hands of young people. That cannot be denied. I am afraid also that there is some truth in the suggestion that the discretion of the Press, in which we have been accustomed to trust, is not in every case so carefully exercised to-day as it has been in past times. At the same time I, of course, make no kind of attack on the Press as a whole. In many cases great care is exercised to exclude from the columns of the Press matter of an indecent nature, but it has been admitted time after time, by those who represent the Press and journalists, that there are exceptions, that there are newspapers which are too ready to publish matter which should not be displayed before the public eye.

Attention has been called to the matter not only by Queen Victoria but by other members of our Royal House and by many people in every grade in life. Your Lordships will not forget this, that for some purposes publicity is necessary for justice. When a man or woman has been publicly accused and the matter comes into court then, if the judgment of the law is in his favour, it is right that, that fact should be brought to the public knowledge. On the other hand, there are cases where, if a verdict is against him, it is equally just that he should suffer the penalty of publicity. Therefore one must take care not to endeavour to suppress publication of facts of that kind where the very publication is essential to justice being done, and not to create suspicion in the public mind that because there is secrecy there is some defect in the administration.

I have made, not now for the first time but for some years past, an endeavour to weigh these sets of considerations one against the other, and I have for some time considered that seine restriction on the present licence of publication is desirable in itself and would not be inconsistent with the other considerations to which I have referred. What is the real difficulty? Why is it, although this publication is in itself a breach of the law, that it is so seldom brought with success to the notice of the courts or, at all events, that it so seldom leads to a verdict against the person charged with that offence? I do not entirely share the views of my noble friend on the subject of trial by jury. I have great confidence in our juries, especially in matters affecting character, and I believe that if the law were put into the right shape you would find juries, like Judges, perfectly ready to enforce it. But I believe the real difficulty is that the law, as it stands, makes indecent publication—that is, publication of a nature calculated to injure public morals—so much a matter of opinion. The law is really not quite definite enough and I venture to say that any amendment of the law had better be in the direction of making more clear and more exact the offence with which you are dealing.

I have read this Bill very carefully. I do not for the moment pledge myself to its details, but I think the Bill is framed on those lines. It proposes, first of all, to define the offence of indecent publication and, secondly, in a special class of case, to put it broadly, matrimonial cases, to confine the right of publication to certain essential facts. Whether the details of the Bill are right or wrong I do not for the moment attempt to say, but I think that the framers of the Bill have proceeded upon the principle of endeavouring to make the law clearer than it is and more easily apprehended by those responsible for the Press, to whom the matter is, of course, of vital moment. Having said what I have said, your Lordships will understand that, while the Government are not responsible for details, while I do not mean that your Lordships may not wish to propose some Amendments to the Bill, on the whole we do regard the Bill with sympathy. In saying that, of course, I must not be understood as undertaking that in this crowded Session any facilities will be given for this Bill; that must be a matter for future consideration in regard to the state of public business. But with that warning I am bound to say that if your Lordships give a Second Reading to this Bill to-day I think the right course will have been taken.


My Lords, we who believe in this Bill have listened with the greatest encouragement to the words of the noble and learned Viscount, on the Woolsack. I only add a few words because, by your Lordships' leave, I gave evidence before the Committee in the House of Commons when this Bill was being considered by a special Committee. I put in evidence four copies of one newspaper which had twenty-four columns in four editions of one divorce suit. This is a matter that has stirred the indignation, not of the clergy nor of the Bishops only, but especially of the teachers of this country. I think 15,000 teachers of all denominations sent in a petition with regard to this very question. They said that these proceedings were debasing the minds of their pupils, and when one little boy of thirteen was asked what he had been reading all the afternoon it proved that he had been reading the details of one of these divorce suits.

It is, therefore, a subject which has become a burning subject in the country. There is the greatest indignation about it from one end of the country to the other, more especially with those who are dealing with the young. The curious thing is that at first the Press were very favourable to something of this kind, but in the last five or six months the tone of the Press has turned round. I have no doubt, however, that the real fact of the matter is this. I will illustrate it from another sphere of work. When I was trying in East London to close the shops of a certain district on Sunday there was always one butcher or one baker who held out and would get all the custom when the others were shut up, and this was always stopping the whole thing. My own belief is that if the iron hand of the State would come down nine-tenths of the newspapers would be very glad indeed. I believe that the fact is that they simply dare not allow one of their competitors to be left as the only paper publishing this kind of report.

The idea of a Judge stopping the case and saying that such-and-such a thing must not be said is quite impossible. I regret very much that I was not able to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Darling, but I am sure he must have shown how impossible that is. Again, when the noble and learned Lord himself asked that incest cases should not be heard in camera, it is impossible for us to press that cases should be heard in camera. We naturally respect such an opinion and we do not press that such cases should be held in camera. When we come to the objections to this Bill, we hear all the old stories of the liberty of the Press, of which, of course, we are all proud in England. But the liberty of the Press is a totally different thing from the licence of the Press and one really cannot entertain the objection that the liberty of the Press requires the pouring out of this filth for the poisoning of the minds of our children.

Again the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has pointed out that we do not want to have no publicity. That is not the idea of the Bill at all. The names, the statement of the ground of proceedings, and the summing up of the Judge may be published—everything, that is necessary to be in the papers. And therefore it seems to me that a really overwhelming case is made on this occasion for State intervention. I do press the Government. I know how difficult it is, but if they would only take this Bill I believe they would get it through in a short time; I do not think there would be much opposition to it at all. What I do feel is that the question is whether we, the decent people, are the masters in our own households or not. I think that probably ninety-nine per cent. of the people in this country are Christian and are decent people, who want to keep our literature decent, but it is a question of whether we are to be masters' in our own household or to be at the mercy of a few blacklegs of the Press.


My Lords, it is quite certain that the noble and learned Lord who introduced this Bill will receive grateful expressions from many quarters of the country because of his action, and not less the right rev. Prelate who has just spoken and who is at the head of a movement, for the promotion of morality, which is fraught with benefit to the country. A noble Lord had something to say about pleasantry from the Bench. Personally I am not a believer in jokes from the Bench, but I have yet to learn that the noble Lord who introduced this Bill has ever said anything jocular about this question. The very fact that he has a deserved reputation as a wit lends a. further appropriateness to his action in this matter. It is a great tribute to him that a number of representative people from other countries came to him and pointed out the great evil done to the reputation of this country by the often nauseous reports of these eases and made an earnest request to him to do what he could to check this evil.

One point was made by the right rev. Prelate which I should like to emphasise. To any who have doubts about supporting this measure, especially those belonging to the Press, I would point out, as the right rev. Prelate pointed out, the position of those who have responsibility for young people—parents in general, guardians, and so on. What are they to do? They cannot shut out the newspapers from their homes, and if they tried to select papers which they thought would not contain these reports it would lead to curiosity and, perhaps, do more harm than good. They have to face the difficulty that if these papers come into their houses with these reports in them they know that the young people of the household will instantly turn to those reports. The noble and learned Lord said: "Why should these things be thrust under people's noses?" With great respect to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, I think there will be a feeling of disappointment regarding his announcement that he could not undertake that His Majesty's Government would give facilities for the Bill. That is a sort of benevolent neutrality or, perhaps, a little more than neutrality. Though petitions to Parliament used to be so common they are now rather out of date, but I cannot help thinking—the right rev. Prelate will, perhaps, consider this—that if His Majesty's Government were made aware of the strong and widespread opinion there is upon this point they might be prepared to give facilities for such a measure even in the present Session.

I do not know whether other noble and learned Lords will address your Lordships upon this subject. I thought that perhaps the Secretary of State for India, who has had such a large experience in using his mastery of the law, in codifying the law, and so on, would have something to say, though I do not know whether this is a subject which particularly interests him. We have had from the noble and learned Lord opposite some most valuable statements. With great deference, I should have thought that the Bill provided a precaution and a protection against the objection that it would not be desirable that cases of this sort should be, as it were, disposed of it private, or hushed up in any way. It is expressly stated in the Bill that the names of the parties and the main features of the cases are, or may be, published as they would be, of course. Thai surely would give the public all that they need to know about these cases and also give an assurance that the cases would be properly dealt with by His Majesty's Judges. We have sufficient trust in our Judges to believe that there would be no hushing up of cases or anything of that description.

The right rev. Prelate did not allude to his own most splendid work in connection with the Society for the Preservation of Public Morality, which has done so much in promoting a sound and healthy public opinion on these matters. I hope that the society will proceed with their work and will meet with all the success they deserve. In regard to the Bill itself I believe that it would have a good reception in another place, judging from what happened on a former occasion, when a measure dealing with morality in a more direct way than this was debated in your Lordships' House. A friend of mine then said to me: "What is the good of passing this Bill? It will not have a chance in the House of Commons." But what was the result? The result was that it readily passed through the House of Commons, and I believe that this Bill would pass through that House with equal readiness.


My Lords, I do not propose to detain your Lordships for more than a moment. The policy of the Government has been declared, as is proper in such cases, with the authority of the Lord Chancellor, and I naturally find myself in full agreement with the views he has expressed. The only reason therefore which has inclined me to rise at all has been that more than once in the course of the debate reference has been made to some observations which I offered upon this topic some years ago, though I cannot precisely recollect the period. I adhere to the opinions which, not without consideration, I expressed then. I am not of the opinion that we are going enormously to improve the morals of the nation by this kind of legislation. In these matters I have never been one of those who thought that a partial reform of this kind, or even an accumulation of partial reforms were going very greatly to affect the course of public morals. My reading of history, such as it is, has led me to the conclusion that if you take the last two hundred or three hundred years the morals of the people in the main have neither very greatly altered for the better nor for the worse. That, of course, is no reason why legislation reforming or reclaiming some tiny segment of the ground may not here and there point the road to improvement, and I desire to make it perfectly plain that I agree with those who have expressed the view that the publication of the details of many unsavoury proceedings in the Law Courts in the last few years in this country have approached the dimensions of a public scandal.

It is perfectly true, as other speakers have pointed out, that there is no other civilised country in the world in which licence is conceded to the same degree. I have in my mind particularly a case which ultimately came before your Lordships' House, sitting in your judicial capacity, and in which details were published day by day of over some seven or eight columns of the daily Press of a lubricity and indecency which certainly no other country in the world could have conceived as being tolerable, and I agree that if it is possible to stop that it ought to be stopped.

I now approach the proposals of this Bill, and here I find the real explanation for my troubling your Lordships with a few observations. The first clause is as follows:— It shall not be lawful to print, circulate or publish, or cause or procure to be printed, circulated or published— (a) in relation to any judicial proceedings any indecent matter or medical, surgical or physiological details being matter or details the publication of which would be calculated to injure public morals or otherwise be to the public mischief; I welcome that provision while I do not express myself as sanguinely in relation to its probable consequences as some of those who have spoken in support of it. But I agree that it is worth trying. It is a positive rule in relation to which obedience may be required and in relation to which disobedience may be castigated.

I must frankly admit that I do not agree in the least with the observation made by my noble and learned friend on the subject of trials by jury. I do not agree in relation to the particular matter he mentioned; still less do I agree with his generalisations. My noble and learned friend, who spent the whole of an honourable and distinguished life in giving guidance not unilluminated by humour to juries, has quoted to-night a passage from Shakespeare which has indicated that in a trial for murder you may possibly find two thieves upon the jury. If we were so unfortunate, I should still venture to express the hope that the fact that there were two thieves upon the jury would not necessarily prove that there were two homicides. In any event, with great respect to my noble and learned friend, I think it is rather a pity that he involved these particular proposals with any reflections upon the jury system. I can inform him that when I laid my hand, at a time when it was thought necessary to do so, upon even the Grand Jury system there was a great deal to be said in favour of the change which I made, but had I attacked the ark of the covenant I could not have been subjected to such a blank wall of opposition as I met with then. I would greatly recommend to my noble and learned friend that what I might describe as the cradle if not the ark should be left for other hands, I will not say to rock but to destroy. I disagree with all that portion of my noble and learned friend's observations.

Now I approach a still more important matter in relation to the Bill. While I am in favour of Clause 1, I entertain the greatest doubt about the practicability of the provisions which begin with paragraph (b) and I will tell your Lordships, without troubling you by reading that paragraph, what the effect of it is. It puts into an entirely special class judicial proceedings for dissolution of marriage, for nullity of marriage, or for judicial separation before a court of summary jurisdiction, and, putting these proceedings in a watertight compartment, it says nothing is to be published except the names, addresses and description of the parties and witnesses, the grounds on which the proceedings are brought and resisted, the submissions on any point of law, the summing up, and so forth, of the Judge. I have this criticism to make. In the first place, provided you can make effective the first subsection which I have read to your Lordships, you do not really need the provisions, which, believe me, will be the subject of the most furious controversy, contained in this highly controversial subsection.

Why, for instance, in divorce proceedings, provided that the publication of those proceedings complies with the provisions of subsection (1)—in other words that it is not indecent—should you make a special rule for dealing with matrimonial proceedings? Matters of indecency may arise in any kind of proceeding. They are not by any means confined to the Divorce Court and what I am sure the framers of this Bill would be wise in doing is to rely upon the valuable provision that no newspaper shall publish anything which is indecent. The test of that is a decision of the Court. You take a newspaper to the Court and the Court has to say: Is this or is it not indecent? I venture to express my view that a jury is just as capable of deciding whether it is indecent matter as any other tribunal in this country. I know well that had it been put to a jury whether the evidence in the Russell case, as that case was tried at Nisi Prius and was universally quoted in our Press, was indecent, I do not believe any jury in the country would have acquitted the Press. If that is true, we should be careful to consider whether we should embarrass or overload the Bill by provisions which must be highly controversial.

We have the advantage in this House now of the presence of the very distinguished and experienced President of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division. I do not know what his views are on this matter or how far he has reached a conclusion, but I should greatly hope before this stage of the Bill is disposed of that he might find it possible, with the knowledge which is wholly unrivalled in this House, to tell us whether in his opinion it would be an advantage or not to make an entirely special rule in relation to his own particular Court. I hope that these words, which are not intended to be unhelpful to the Bill but which, having some greater experience of this matter, I find myself at liberty to make, will not be taken as a discouragement by any one who supports the Bill, because, so far as I can, I would gladly assist it in its Parliamentary fortune.


My Lords, I support the principle of this Bill heartily. I am sure there is a mischief in this country by the deliberate distribution for profit of moral poison especially calculated to affect the mind of the young and inexperienced, and nobody who has that belief can doubt that if there are legislative means of dealing with a gross abuse of that kind they ought to be taken. But a good deal of consideration of this subject has satisfied me that, although the evil is easy to define and is of that kind which I have described in its worst aspects, it is a subtle evil and my great doubt—when I have considered the matter from time to time now for, I think, something like three years at the invitation of persons who were more closely interested in it—has been whether the means which are proposed in this Bill are going to be the best means for dealing with that evil.

My noble and learned friend the Secretary of State for India gave the sanction of his experience and judgment to the main operative clause of the Bill. I think any lawyer, or any man of legal experience, who will read it will agree that it does very little more than affirm the existing law, and if you affirm the existing law against the dissemination of pollution and filth, and maintain the existing means and existing sanctions for preventing the evil, I am not so sanguine as some of my noble friends are that you are going to secure the objects you have in view. My right hon. friend, the author of the Bill as it was produced in the House of Commons, did me the honour of inviting me to give evidence before a Select Committee of the other House, and I gave it some evidence in which I directed attention to this aspect of the matter. I think, as my noble and learned friend Lord Birkenhead thinks, that the more practical knowledge you have about this topic the more you will feel that if you are going to make an effectual inroad against the evil towards which the Bill is directed you will have to give a great deal of careful study and attention to the subject.

What is proposed in the main is to make a prohibition of certain publications. To that I most heartily assent. Then it is proposed to make it possible to have a summary trial of cases of this kind. Now the worst offenders in these cases are people who command great pecuniary resources, and your summary trial may become as bad a nuisance as the thing against which the Bill is aimed, and it may well be that the publication of every item which is discussed in the summary trial, may be made a household topic by wealthy offenders who aim to make a profit out of the dissemination of filthy details. That, to my mind, is a grave risk.

Another thing is this. It is highly desirable, as I think—and I believe any man of experience in the conduct or administration of the law will also think—that you should do nothing to encroach—do nothing needlessly to encroach—upon our system of the public administration of justice. It may be tainted with evils, but a closed chamber is rarely sweet in a sanitary sense, and publicity about most things is of enormous benefit, as I believe, in the social and judicial sense There is a great risk, if you handle it carelessly, of doing injustice to individuals, of having a person charged with matters about which public report becomes rife and publication merely of the fact of his being acquitted. Now that, to my mind, is a serious risk for innocent people. There is a risk of your depriving the administration of justice of its deterrent influences. The deterrent influences of publicity in the administration of justice are among the most valuable influences at work in affairs where transgressors and transgression are being dealt with. I know that the publicity of certain classes of misconduct is a deterrent against misconduct. I know of the anger that some persons, to whom reference was made by my noble friend behind me earlier in the debate, Teel that their conduct should be made the subject of publicity. I do not sympathise with them. The mode for them to avoid publication is an entirely different mode.

I do not desire to take up the time of the House long on this subject. The direct prohibition, I am sure, is useful. I believe the first operative section is so framed that it may, probably, have good deterrent results, because decent people who conduct publications would be bound to put some one to see that they ran no risk of being charged with doing something indecent. I think there will be active supervision where perhaps less active supervision exists now. But as to the other matters, as to whether it is satisfactory to send these highly controversial questions to stipendiary justices or to a bench of magistrates, with an appeal afterwards, and leave the main subject-matter of indecent intent a question to be widely discussed, I hope those in charge of the Bill will exercise grave consideration.

May I venture to say this? Is it not possible to have a more summary remedy in a gross case than that at which you have aimed? Can you not find some tribunal which, when it is informed of a case of gross indecency, shall say then that the penalty, the immediate penalty, is a cessation of publication, not a cessation of the publication of the matter, but a cessation of the publication of the journal for a period? If you can find a tribunal to which you will entrust that summary power, let reference then be made by the Bill to some other tribunal to whom you can entrust final authority and until the judgment of the Court of Appeal has been passed prohibit any publication upon the matter of any of the details of the alleged offence or on any of the arguments which relate to it.

When we were dealing with a matter which affected the national and material interests in the War the Legislature did not hesitate to entrust tribunals with very absolute summary powers because they were required at the time; and it did not permit irresponsible discussion as to why the powers were exercised. I am not infatuated enough to suppose that I can invent a remedy for an evil which is capable of undermining the moral intelligence and the good intentions of inexperienced people, but I ask the authors of this Bill to consider whether really they are not applying to a sabtle evil an old-fashioned remedy which may be inoperative and which may, in its action, produce new causes of complaint. I ask His Majesty's Government to consider whether on this subject, which affects public, morals, the administration of justice, the freedom of the Press and the purity of the household—if you are going to deal with it by some method on which you can rely with some confidence that you can succeed—it is not worth while to pause upon the road and make an inquiry, not by the ordinary stages of a Committee of this House but by a Select Committee, or a Joint Committee, or by some other method, which can bring attention properly and carefully to the evil and the mode of dealing with it, and which may perhaps secure for this Bill the co-operation of all respectable and responsible elements in the Press, for all of them are desirous, I am sure, that the evil against which this Bill is aimed shall be brought to an end.


My Lords, I am not going to intervene for more than a moment or two in the debate, but I am certain that your Lordships will feel that there is a very real advantage in the discussion which has taken place to-day. There has been no substantial difference, indeed no difference at all, as to the laudableness of the intent and the necessity of some action for giving effect to it. The speeches to which we have listened from the two noble and learned Lords have helped us better to weigh the subject in all its aspects by the fact that they were able to give us words of caution and counsel as to the manner in which the thing could be clone. I should feel that it is unnecessary for me to add anything to the testimony from these quarters as to the strength and widespread character of the support which is given to an endeavour of the kind initiated by the noble and learned Lord, but I want to say a few words in corroboration of what has been said regarding outside opinion, because if I do not say it a good many people might be disappointed—and many people are very keen on this subject.

During the whole of last week we had an assemblage, within a few hundred yards of the place where we are now sitting, of very large numbers of men and a fair sprinkling of women, who met for the purpose of the Assembly of the National Church. I am not one of those who regard it as necessarily a good thing that an ecclesiastical assembly should be dealing directly with questions which are not definitely and strictly ecclesiastical in their character. Each case must be considered on its merits, and sometimes I think an ecclesiastical assembly is tempted to go a little outside the range of its proper province. But when a question like this affecting the morality and wellbeing of the people comes up, it would be entirely to belie the character which we wish the National Assembly to possess were we not able to debate, consider and resolve upon such a subject.

The amount of inside knowledge of the homes of the people possessed by an Assembly consisting of the Bishops of the dioceses and several hundreds of the parochial clergy, who work from day to day inside these homes, and the great mass of lay people, the preponderating laymen in the Assembly, elected not on political grounds but because of their interest in the public wellbeing, which they desire to promote—the accumulated knowledge which is possessed by such an Assembly is vast indeed, and it is a rare thing for us to obtain a unanimous vote. Most of the subjects can be, and rightly are, looked at from many different points of view, and unanimity is by no means an ordinary thing. When this subject came before us last week, as it did, and this measure in its outlines had been discussed, a vote was taken—I was in the chair and I took the vote myself—and it was a unanimous vote of the Bishops, clergy, and laity, men and women, that something of this sort was desired. They were anxious that the Government should take the matter in hand and deal with it drastically and at once. Therefore I feel it to be right to remind the House that those to whom special responsibility is entrusted with regard to our moral and social well-being came to the decision which they reached last week, emphatically endorsing the arguments which have been brought before us to-night as to the need of a measure of this kind and expressing a desire that it should become law as speedily as possible.


My Lords, there is one aspect of this Bill to which, I think; it might perhaps be useful to draw attention for a moment. As I understand the matter, the real object, from the public point of view, of the publication of the details of judicial proceedings is that the searchlight of public opinion should be turned upon the conduct of judicial business in the Courts. If paragraph (b) of the first subsection of Clause 1 of this Bill were passed as it stands, I see no adequate provision for turning the searchlight of public opinion upon matrimonial proceedings so that they may be adequately criticised by the public. The publication of the names of parties and witnesses, of the grounds alleged, of submissions on points of law and of the summing up of the Judge would give no adequate opportunity for such criticism. This is, I think, a point that should be borne in mind by the promoters of the Bill before it reaches its final stages. Paragraph (a) of the same subsection is not open to that criticism. It excludes the publication only of certain matter which does not involve the full conduct of the case.

There is one respect, however, in which, with deference to what has been said by the noble and learned Lord, adequate provision is not made in that subsection. What we really have to meet is, not the publication of the material evidence, but the abuse of, and the undue prominence given to, the unsavoury features of the case. One of the most serious matters, in my judgment, with which we have to deal is the publication of photographs, details of dresses and so on, to which allusion has already been made, and paragraph (a) does not meet that difficulty. What I should be inclined to suggest would be a general clause prohibiting the publication of photographs of persons, whether parties or witnesses, engaged in judicial proceedings. I do not know what mischief such a prohibition could do. It would be perfectly general in its application, it would not be confined either to matrimonial or to criminal proceedings, but it would exclude what is really the most cruel thing in the modern Press. An unlucky boy is indicted or brought up before the magistrates on a charge of murder and he finds his photograph on the following day broadcasted before the whole nation. Whether he is innocent or guilty is quite immaterial. That is one of the things that has to be met; it is not met, as I have pointed out, by this paragraph and I believe it can be met only by a general prohibition of the publication of photographs of persons concerned in judicial proceedings.


My Lords, I desire to say only a very few words in answer to the points that have been made. I am thankful to know that the Bill does command the assent of this House—so far as I can gather, a unanimous assent—to its Second Reading. As to the points to which attention has been called, they are, of course, from the nature of the position of those who called attention to them, matters to be considered with great care and adopted. That will be possible if this Bill goes to a Committee of this House. Since the most rev. Primate mentioned that which had been resolved at an Assembly of the Church, I think I may be excused for reading something that I felt it unnecessary to read before, as a sort of supplement to that which the most rev. Primate said. I received at this House to-day the following telegram:— The Wesleyan Methodist Conference assembled at Lincoln records its support for the principle of the Judicial Proceedings (Regulation of Reports) Bill now before the House of Lords and requests His Majesty's Government to grant facilities in the public interest, for the early passage of this measure into law. (Signed) John H. Ritson, President. There are only two other points. The right rev. Prelate, the Bishop of London, mentioned that my name had been referred to in connection with the new law which provided that trials for incest should no longer be heard in camera. It is true that I did all that I could to get the former practice reversed, and now these trials take place in open Court. I know that it has been regarded as odd that I should promote this Bill, seeing that I took that course, but the position is perfectly logical, as I shall show in a moment. There is nothing in this Bill about trying these cases in camera. They will not be tried in camera. The reason why I did what I did was that a trial for incest does not often involve any filthy details. There is no especial filth in eleven cases out of a dozen.

When I was on the Bench, and found myself obliged to try these cases, the Court had to be cleared. I was the first Judge to say that the counsel should remain, whose business, I said, could not be properly learnt unless they attended a Court such as this. I did what I could to secure the public trial of these cases on the ground that they were not half as indecent as numbers of other cases tried at the Assizes and, above all, because incest had not been a criminal offence in the law of England for centuries. It was triable only in the Ecclesiastical Court, being an offence against Canon Law, and I found, when I sat on the Bench to try these cases, that until that Bill was passed people brought before me did not know that what they had been doing was an indictable offence. How should they, unless they had the printed copy of the Act? They would not know it, and they did not know it, and, as it seemed to me that the mere publication of the case would not be more indecent than the publication of twenty other cases that I tried at the same Assizes, I did feel that it was hard that people should be tried for a crime which they had no means of knowing had been recently created an offence, because newspapers gave no report whatever of these trials. A person would be taken from his village to the Assizes and would not appear in the village again for a long time, perhaps. Who knew what he had been sentenced for? Unless his family told no one would know.

There is one other matter. The noble Earl, the Secretary of State for India, found a little fault with me and more with; Shakespeare because Shakespeare has written and I have quoted that a jury "passing on a prisoner's life" might contain two thieves. He said that this was not to the point because in spite of Shakespeare a jury would not contain two homicides. No, but Shakespeare was not talking of a trial for homicide. In Shakespeare's day—if Shakespeare did write these plays, though some people think they were written by a Bencher of Gray's Inn—thieving was a capital offence. Shakespeare did not think that there were two homicides on the jury. The man they tried for his life was a thief.

It has been said that because I tried so many cases with a jury I ought not to criticise them at all. I do not see that at all. People criticise Judges and it is often said they are all the better for it. If one may criticise a Judge, why should not one criticise a jury? A jury is sitting now to decide if Mr. Darwin or some earlier author was right. Are we not to criticise that jury? We certainly shall. As a matter of fact, I never tried a divorce case in my life. I never sat to assist the Judges in the Divorce Court as other King's Bench Judges did, and I left the Bench before any divorce cases were triable at Assizes. I am very glad that this Bill has received the measure of support that it has and I thank your Lordships for having listened to me.

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