HL Deb 29 July 1925 vol 62 cc528-47

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

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Darling.)


My Lords, before this Motion is put there are two or three matters which I should like to mention to your Lordships with a view, if possible, to secure procedure by which the Bill may have a fair chance of being considered in another place during this Session of Parliament. There are differences of principle between the Amendments which have been put down and the Bill as it stands, but as I ventured to say to your Lordships when the Second Reading was moved, I do not believe there is any difference of opinion anywhere as to the desirability of doing something to check the publication of matters tending to immorality. On that basis I have considered some proposals which I have put down on the Order Paper and which it seemed to me, in the form in which I put them down and having regard to the conflict which arose between the proposers of the Bill and myself, may be more fit for consideration by a Select Committee than by a Committee of the Whole House. But I have had some consultation with my noble and learned friend Lord Darling and many of those who support the Bill and, if I may take up your Lordships' time, I would like to lay before your Lordships what I understand to be the questions between the promoters of the Bill and myself, with a view to seeing whether we could not proceed in Committee to arrive at some agreed settlement about the matters between us.

If I have your Lordships' leave, I would state as concisely as possible the view which I take of the Bill regarding it as a whole and upon the question whether it can properly, be considered by a Committee of the Whole House. It is a short Bill, and the Amendments are not very lengthy. Now with regard to Clause 1, subsection (1) (a), I think there is substantial agreement between the promoters of the Bill and its critics, speaking generally. I do not know of any difference in principle. The comment made upon Clause 1, subsection (1) (a), is that it states in a concise form part of the Common Law with regard to indecent publications, and does not help very much. Subsection (1) (b) (i), (ii), (iii), and (iv) deals with matters which are permitted to be published. The view I took and upon which I prepared an amendment was that if people were minded to break the law they should be reminded of what the law is and then you should take care they do not break it, or break it at their peril, but I have found among friends of mine of great experience in these matters a prevalent view that it is desirable that the extravagant and prolix publication of reports of some classes of judicial proceedings should be dealt with.

I have grave doubts about the principle myself, but I desire, so far as I can, to meet the views of those, many of them certainly with as long and some of them with longer experience than my own, to whom I have referred on these matters and who do take the view that subsection (1) (b) will be a useful subsection. It will certainly prevent such publications as one saw during the week-end, when a page, or a large part of two pages, of a London weekly paper was devoted to the unwholesome details of one cause in the Divorce Court. I know that the Bill is aimed at that kind of publication. Taking that view, unless there is some objection stronger than my own, what I would suggest to the noble and learned Lord who is in charge of the Bill is this: that paragraph (ii) of subsection (1) (b) really opens a door to a peril which he has not, perhaps, quite apprehended. It implied by sanctions the publication of the grounds on which the proceedings in question are brought and resisted, as set forth in the petition and answer and particulars.

It is quite true that is qualified by the proviso, but the proviso again and the enactments in paragraph (ii) are so at variance that my impression is that excuses will be found for publication if the Bill passes in its present form, which, although they may avoid prosecution under the proviso, will have a very unwholesome effect. The petition, answer and particulars referred to here are, in a great number of cases, wholly unfit for publication. They contain sometimes matters absolutely revolting, which are never specifically mentioned in Court, and without enlarging upon that matter I would suggest to my learned friend whether, if what he intends to do is to combine conciseness with decency, it would not be better to frame paragraph (ii) in some such terms as these: A concise statement of the grounds on which the proceedings are brought and resisted. and to omit that reference to papers in Court, the mention of which, I think, would lead to difficulty and danger. As to paragraphs (iii) and (iv) I will only say that I see no objection to (iii) and as to (iv), as the publications there are subject immediately to the proviso, I think that would be reasonably safe. If it be the common sense of your Lordships that subsection (1) (b) will be useful in the Bill, subject to any other Amendments which are made, I certainly should not desire to divide the House upon the question of omitting it and, I tell any noble and learned friend that at once.

Then we pass on to subsection (2). I have raised there a question which is undoubtedly a question of principle. I propose to move to omit the words "on summary conviction" and to substitute a different type of tribunal. One of the perils of setting up a tribunal for examination of matters such as are in question here is that you may introduce new centres from which contamination will proceed in bad cases, and having that very strongly in view I desired to bring to your Lordships' notice that there is a tribunal which could deal with the matter—namely, a Judge of the High Court, who would deal with it summarily, who would come to his conclusion upon it. I propose that that conclusion, if it were a conclusion in favour of conviction, should be subject to review in the Court of Criminal Appeal. I have heard from various quarters that there is likely to be serious opposition to the introduction of a new tribunal to deal with a new criminal offence and that the consideration of the Bill is likely to be regarded with less hostility if the existing tribunals are resorted to. There is an Amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, which proposes that this Bill should apply to reports of proceedinge before the tribunal which dealt with charges under it. If that Amendment were adopted I see no objection at all to sending the cases under the Bill to some court of summary jurisdiction. Most of these cases will arise in London, no doubt; the place of publication, or at least the seat of publication, of most of the newspapers would be in London. It would be easy to deal with it in London.

If you adopt the final clause in the Amendment of which I have given Notice and provide that no prosecution shall be commenced without the fiat of the Attorney-General, which I think is a necessary and wholesome precaution in any view of the matter, then I do not see any difficulty in limiting these prosecutions either to courts in London or to courts where there is a stipendiary magistrate. I confess that if the prosecution could be limited in that way, instead of cases being liable to spring up sporadically as centres of mischief in all parts of the country, I should regard the proposal with much more favour, and I should see much less objection to resorting to a court of summary jurisdiction. Rather than divide the House on the matter, although my view was different, I should fall in with the view of my noble and learned friend.

There is one other matter and that is the substantive proposal which is contained in my proposed new subsection (3), whereby the Court which deals with immoral publications of the kind in question, if it should find that there have been within a limited period repeated publications of the same kind in the same newspaper or periodical, should be at liberty, for a period to be determined by the Court and not exceeding six months, to suspend the publication of the newspaper or periodical. I regard that proposal as really crucial in this Bill. That will be a real deterrent against laxity and licence in the matters which the promoters of the Bill have in view. To that proposal I attach importance. Upon that proposal if my noble and learned friend is ready to concur we can be agreed, but if not I should desire there, as it is quite outside the matters generally in question between the supporters of the Bill and myself, to know what the sense of the House is. I am much obliged to the House for the indulgence it has shown me, but I thought it would be convenient if I outlined the position as between my noble friends and myself with a view, if possible, to saving prolonged discussion.


My Lords, I venture to think that the public who are interested in preserving something like decency in the reporting of these offending cases will welcome, as I do, the speech which my noble friend has just delivered. As I understand, he assents to the first clause of the Bill altogether, down to the beginning of paragraph (ii) of subsection (b).


Yes, subject to one or two suggestions about detail. There is an Amendment of the Lord Chancellor which ought to be considered and an Amendment of the noble Earl opposite which I think ought to be considered.


Yes, and they naturally will be. But as I understand, down to the end of paragraph (i) my noble and learned friend assents to the Bill in the form in which it stands, subject to the Amendments to be proposed by the Lord Chancellor and the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp. Nothing could be more satisfactory to those who desire this Bill to pass than that. Now we come to paragraph (ii), which says that the papers may be allowed to publish the grounds upon which the proceedings are brought and resisted as set forth in the petition and answer and particulars thereof. My noble and learned friend would not allow the newspapers to do that and I may thank him for this. This Bill was not drawn by me; it was the result of a Select Committee It has very influential backing from all Parties in the other House. and with regard to this all I can say is that, whereas those promoters and supporters of the Bill would chastise the offenders with whips, my noble and learned friend the President of the Divorce Court would chastise them, I think very properly, with scorpions. And therefore it is not likely that I shall resist him, if he moves to omit paragraph (ii).

With regard to the rest, my noble friend assents to paragraph (iii), so there, can be no difference of opinion between him and myself on that. He assents also to paragraph (iv). We therefore do rot differ about that. With regard to pars graph (ii) he would substitute a proposal that the newspapers may publish a concise statement of the grounds upon which the petition is drawn. If he can put that into words I will accept it at once. I imagine he will do so before this Committee stage closes. It seems to me there can be no difficulty about it because paragraph (iv), to which he assents, allows the newspapers to publish the summing up of the Judge and the finding of the jury, if there be a jury and they find anything. They may also publish the judgment of the Court and observations made by the Judge in giving judgment. My noble and learned friend assents to that, and that, of course, would cover the ground which would be in the concise statement which he proposes the newspapers are to publish. So that it seems to me there is very little difference between us.

Your Lordships all know that a most offensive case has been before Mr. Justice Hill in the Divorce Court within the last few days. To-day there is his judgment in the case. There was no jury but there is his judgment, and I read it, not for pleasure but because of this debate, to see what kind of thing the newspapers would be likely to publish under this paragraph (iv). If any of your Lordships read the judgment you will see that, although it deals with most offensive subjects, it deals with them as a Judge would be certain to deal with them, in a perfectly proper and decent way. Therefore, taking even so extreme an instance as this peculiarly offensive case it seems to me there would be no danger in allowing paragraph (iv) to stand as it appears in the Bill and as my noble and learned friend thinks it should stand.

Now all this is to allow the newspapers to publish a great deal more than they are allowed to publish in most Continental countries. Long ago a statesman wrote in a celebrated Despatch: "With equal advantage the French are content." We know what the French do. They allow Practically nothing to be published, not more than we publish in a case where a bankrupt is examined, beyond just the official notification. We do not set before ourselves in this Bill so high an ideal of purity as exists in Paris. We are content with a little less advantage than the French in this matter, and so our newspapers may congratulate themselves that they have more liberty than is allowed in these matters to their confrères who write in Paris or other parts of France.

In regard to the rest my noble and learned friend would substitute certain provisions for those which are in the Bill. I must insist upon this. This Bill passed a Select Committee of the House of Commons. It bears the names of Mr. Clynes, Sir John Simon, Mr. Thomas and Sir Leslie Scott, men of various Parties who have made themselves responsible for the introduction of this Bill. What they put into the Bill is that when a prosecution is taken it should be brought before the justices. I much prefer that, as they did. My noble and learned friend suggests that the cases should come before a Judge in Chambers. My objection to that is this. What goes on in Chambers is in camera. The only people there are the clerks of the attorneys who are interested in the cases that are to come on. They are a very noisy body of persons, and very often when I sat in Chambers I excluded a great many of them. The other people there are not the public but people interested in the case under consideration or other cases.

It appears to me that it would be far better to allow these cases to come on before the justices as most criminal eases do now. Judges in Chambers do not deal with criminal cases. This proposal of my noble and learned friend is revolutionary and I think would shock the noble and learned Viscount opposite. It is that a Judge in Chambers may pass sentence upon a person who may then be taken away without any public inquiry and put into prison. If he is sentenced before the magistrates it happens in public. The noble Earl opposite has an Amendment on the Paper which would perhaps safeguard those proceedings from being turned into a means of gratifying obscene persons, with which your Lordships will deal as you please. But the case will come before the magistrates in public and if the person accused is convicted there is an appeal to Quarter Sessions—to the assembly of all the justices in Quarter Sessions. That is what commended itself to those who drew this Bill; it would, I think, be far preferable to the kind of exceptional tribunal which my noble and learned friend would set up. I know what it would be called the moment it was set up. People who have a false notion that the Star Chamber was what it was not, a very infamous tribunal, would say "This is the Star Chamber." My noble and learned friend would be held up to all the condemnation which has fallen on those who were responsible for the Star Chamber in the latter days of its existence, and I want to save him from that. Therefore I shall have to differ from my noble and learned friend in regard to that matter.

Then he proposes that part of the sentence should be the suspension of the newspaper which offends in this way. I shall be content to leave that to those who judge the matter. If the paper had offended before and was in the habit of offending in this particular, those who decided the ease might well be allowed to suspend it for a time from its harmful activities. My only difficulty is to know exactly how my noble and learned friend and I are to arrive at the result upon which we are agreed. The Bill must go into Committee. I take it that my noble friend desires that it shall go into Committee. In Committee he could propose the few Amendments which would bring him, the supporters of the Bill and myself into harmony. Therefore, I welcome what he says.


My Lords, I am sorry the House did not go into Committee half an hour ago. I think your Lordships have been somewhat harshly treated. What has taken place illustrates the extreme inconvenience of discussing in detail almost every Amendment which is upon the Paper at the moment when we should discuss, as we shall have still to discuss, all those Amendments in Committee. The inconvenience of the course is, perhaps, best illustrated by the fact that the noble and learned Lord who spoke last spent about five minutes of his speech in objecting to the proposal that these matters should be dealt with by a Judge in Chambers. My noble and learned friend Lord Merrivale had previously and privately informed me that he intended to withdraw this Amendment. If only your Lordships had been allowed to proceed with the ordinary Committee stage of the Bill no discussion of this kind would have been necessary. I hope that your Lordships will now go into Committee.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

(The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.)

Clause 1:

Restriction on publication of reports of judicial proceedings.

1.—(1) It shall not be lawful to print, circulate or publish, or cause or procure to be printed, circulated or published—

  1. (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;
  2. (b) 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 537 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.

(2) If any person acts in contravention of the provisions of this Act he shall in respect of each offence be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or to a fine not exceeding five hundred pounds, or to both such imprisonment and fine.

(3) Nothing in this section shall apply to the publishing of any notice or report in pursuance of the directions of the court; or to the publishing of any matter in any separate volume or part of any bona fide series of law reports which does not form part of any other publication and consists solely of reports of proceedings in courts of law, or in any publication of a technical character bona fide intended for circulation among members of the legal or medical professions.

LORD SANDHURST had Amendments on the Paper to move, in paragraph (a) of subsection (1), after "proceedings," to insert "(i)" and after "mischief," to insert "or (ii) any portrait or pictorial representation of any party to or witness in such proceedings." The noble Lord said: Since putting down these Amendments I have ascertained that there is a clause in a Government Bill in another place which deals with photography, and therefore I do not propose to move my Amendments.

LORD MERRIVALE had an Amendment on the Paper to omit all words in subsection (1) after paragraph (a). The noble and learned Lord said: I will not move this Amendment, in order that a little later I may move an Amendment which my noble friend Lord Darling is ready to accept to Clause 1, subsection (1), paragraph (ii).


Will the noble and learned Lord tell me exactly where it occurs?


It occurs in paragraph (ii), at the beginning of line 24, and would read "a concise statement of."


The Lord Chancellor has art Amendment in line 17, which comes first.

THE LORD CHANCELLOR(VISCOUNT CAVE) moved to leave out of paragraph (b) of subsection (1) the words "or proceedings before a court of summary jurisdiction in which an order for judicial separation is made or applied for." The noble and learned Viscount said: This Amendment will somewhat lighten the Bill. The effect of paragraph (b) is that in respect of certain proceedings, which I will describe as matrimonial proceedings, only certain particulars shall be published. No doubt the reason for that proposal is that that kind of proceeding can hardly ever take place without involving some matter unfit for publication. But that does not apply to proceedings before justices for a separation. I do not know what your Lordships experience is, but I hardly remember a case where a summons for separation before magistrates has been succeeded by publication of a substantial amount of improper matter. In most cases no matrimonial offence in the ordinary sense of that word is involved. It is usually a question of assault or cruelty or something of that kind, and it seems to me to be absurd to forbid the publication of details in cases of that kind. In these proceedings there is no such thing as a petition and answer and particulars, such as is referred to in paragraph (ii) of (b), nor is there any summing-up by the Judge or any finding of the jury, so that really these words do not fit into the rest of the clause. I think it would be wise to leave them out and confine the paragraph to real matrimonial proceedings. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 17, leave out from ("separation") to ("any") in line 19.—(The Lord Chancellor.)


So far as I am concerned, I accept this Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

EARL BEAUCHAMP moved, in paragraph (b), after "made or applied for," to insert "or any proceedings taken under this Act." The noble Earl said: I put down this Amendment to meet criticisms made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Merrivale, on the Second Reading, which seemed to me so cogent as to require some Amendment of the Bill. I hope that this Amendment will meet with his approval and also with that of the noble and learned Lord in charge of the Bill. Your Lordships will see that it is designed to prevent proceedings taken under this Bill from being, as it were, a fresh source of infection.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 19, after ("for") insert ("or any proceedings taken under this Act").— (Earl Beauchamp.)


May I point out that although the object of this Amendment is one with which I am sure we shall all sympathise the wording hardly achieves the object that is desired, for reasons very similar to those which the learned Lord Chancellor has just given regarding his Amendment. If the Amendment is adopted the paragraph would read:— 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 or any proceedings taken under this Act. That, in effect, prevents a newspaper from publishing in its account of the proceedings taken against it the argument that it should be let off leniently and the grounds upon which the magistrate decided that it was a case for leniency and a number of other things of that kind.

Moreover, the expressions which are referred to in paragraphs (i), (ii), (iii) and (iv) obviously refer to the proceedings in a Divorce Court because they refer to the Judge and possibly to the jury, and if nothing of those things can be published after the proceedings the newspaper, by the terms of the clause, is prohibited from publishing a report of the proceedings in which it is subsequently a party. I can appreciate that the noble Earl wishes to prevent them from, first of all, publishing a highly salacious paragraph offending against the principle of this Bill and then printing a full report of proceedings taken against them for having published such a paragraph and reprinting that salacious paragraph and saying: "That is what we were fined for." I am quite desirous to see that what the noble Earl wishes should be made effective, but may I suggest that he should reconsider the words?


If the noble and learned Lord would communicate with me privately I will put down a proviso in order to see that his point is met.


I think it may be more convenient if the noble Earl would take the other course and not press the Amendment to-day, but consider the form of it before the Report Stage. I do see great difficulty in the words which he proposes. Whatever else may be inserted they do not fit in with the clause as drawn and there is also the fact, which has been strongly brought before me, that a newspaper which is prosecuted, which is subjected to criminal proceedings on an allegation of indecency, is very reluctant to be forbidden to state its defence fully so as to bring it before its readers. That is a matter which ought to be considered, although I quite agree with what has been said by my noble and learned friend that something ought to be done to prevent a re-publication of improper matter. Whether the proviso at the end of this paragraph will be enough for that purpose is no doubt a matter to be considered, but I rather hope the noble Earl will withdraw his Amendment to-day and consider the form of it before Report.


Certainly, if that is more convenient I will do so.


May I suggest to the noble Earl that there will be consider-able difficulty in drawing a clause which will achieve the result that we all desire—namely, that reports of proceedings under the Bill should not contain indecent matter? May I suggest for the noble Earl's consideration before he draws his new clause whether the evil which we anticipate and desire to prevent might not already be met by Clause 1, subsection (1) (a), which prohibits in relation to any judicial proceedings any indecent matter whatever? If the Bill is passed in that form might it not really meet the object that we have in view?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I would if I may move in line 24, subsection (1) (b) (ii), to insert these words, "a concise statement of" the grounds on which the proceedings are brought and resisted.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 24, after ("(ii)"), insert ("a concise statement of").—(Lord Merrivale.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 25, leave out the words after ("resisted") to the end of line 26.—(Lord Merrivale.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD MERRIVALE moved, in subsection (2), to leave out "on summary conviction." The noble and learned Lord said: I have stated already my personal view about this matter, and I move it formally now in order that the view of the House might appear.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 14, leave out ("on summary conviction").—(Lord Merrivale.)


I ask your Lordships' pardon for what I did. When my noble and learned friend mentioned this in the course of his introductory remarks I said that I disagreed, and considered that the words "on summary conviction" should remain. I need say no more now.


I hope these words will be retained. There may be many offences under this Bill of quite a trifling character in which the judgment and decision of a stipendiary magistrate in London, or magistrates in other large cities, will be all that is required. If a person accused of an offence desires to appeal he has an appeal to Quarter Sessions. On the whole I think it is a beneficial proposal that summary proceedings should be possible.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

LORD MERRIVALE moved, after subsection (2), to insert as a new subsection: (3) Where a person is convicted of an offence under this Act in respect of a publication made in any newspaper or periodical, and there have previously been two or more convictions of offences under this Act in respect of publications in the same newspaper or periodical within a period of two years, the Court may in addition to any other penalty under this Act order that the publication of the newspaper or periodical be suspended for such time, not exceeding six months, as the Court thinks fit, provided that before any such order is made such notice shall be given to the proprietor, publisher and printer of the newspaper or periodical as the Court may direct.

The noble and learned Lord said: I do not propose to move the first subsection of which I have given Notice in my Amendment, that is, that "a prosecution under this Act shall be conducted on summons before a Judge of the High Court in Chambers in manner provided by Rules of Court to be made for the purpose under this Act." I am moving the second paragraph of my Amendment, with the substitution of the word "Court" for the word "Judge" in each place where the word "Judge" occurs. This alts ration is necessary on a previous decision. I do not desire to take up much time in advocating this Amendment. It seems that if any fine is to be effective against wealthy offenders in a matter of an outrage upon public decency, it must touch their pockets much more seriously than the fine mentioned in the Bill. This will be really a drastic Act, which is likely, I think, if it is resorted to, to put an end to a good deal of the looseness which has existed in respect of this matter. I cannot think that there is any hardship, if the proprietors of a newspaper twice in two years have been convicted of offences against public decency, that there should be an interval before they are allowed the opportunity of repeating the offence. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 17, at end insert the said new subsection.—(Lord Merrivale.)


I do not wish to object to the new subsection, but it seems to me rather a big order altogether to suspend the circulation of a newspaper.


Whose fault will that be?


It may have been an accidental offence. It seems to me rather a strong order.


There is another aspect of the matter which must occur to many of your Lordships. Supposing this absolutely new power of punishment were entrusted to magistrates, does anyone think that this Bill has the least chance of making any progress in another place? We hear a good deal about the power of the Press. I have nothing to say about it, except that every newspaper in the Kingdom will mobilise all its forces against a Bill which proposes to entrust stipendiary magistrates with a power, under any circumstances, of suspending the publication of the newspaper for a period not exceeding six months. I do not propose to discuss whether it is a meritorious penalty or not. We do not live in an ideal world, and the penalties which we have hitherto known in the criminal law show a marked tendency to become more lenient and more limited in their scope rather than more extended. There is no parallel to this that I know of, and although I have no knowledge of the feelings of another place, as I have never witnessed any exhibitions except like a peri at the gates of Paradise—from the Peers' Gallery in the House of Commons—it passes my imagination what will happen as soon as a proposal like this is seriously introduced there. I feel confident, although I am sure my noble and learned friend will entirely disagree with me, that only ill wishers of the Bill would really insert a clause like this new subsection.


I will leave the matter entirely to the judgment of the House.


The noble Lord, Lord Banbury of Southam, drew a pathetic picture of the plight of the owner of a paper who might be ruined by the suspension of his right to publish. If he has proved himself unfit to publish a newspaper by repeated gross offences against public decency I do not myself think he is a subject for commiseration. Then my noble and learned friend is apprehensive as to what will happen in another place on this proposal. Those who support the principle of this Bill, if they really intend it to be operative, must in my judgment face the imposition of real penalties. Those who have been the authors of the Bill and its supporters in another place will, I think, desire to find some means by which the power to continue publication of a newspaper shall be fettered in the case of those who have shown themselves unfit to have that power. Whether the form of the Amendment is the correct form I am not at all sure. It was for that reason that I reserved the right of appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal and for the same reason that I originally proposed that a Judge of the High Court should deal with these matters. One may be suspected of a desire to wreck the Bill, but I desire, if Parliament passes the Bill, that it shall be an operative Bill and do something to remove a public nuisance and peril.


When the Amendment which has been moved by the noble and learned Lord appeared on the Paper it seemed to me to be of such a staggering character that I really did not think your Lordships would give it serious consideration, largely on the grounds indicated by Lord Sumner. It is an unprecedented thing to say that a stipendiary magistrate should be able to arrest the circulation of The Times or the Daily Telegraph, or any one of our huge machines of publication, simply on the grounds of a repeated offence against decency, but, even if this power were acceptable, you are admitting an extremely dangerous principle, because the publication of indecent matter is not at all the only mischievous public act which a newspaper might commit. A stipendiary magistrate might, on a third conviction for indecency, suspend the paper, and we are thus brought face to face with the question of the administrative right to suspend a newspaper when it has offended on the third occasion against the Government in power or has committed some other action which is commonly regarded, or may be regarded, as contrary to public interests. This is a condition of things which we should tolerate in this country only in a state of war or in circumstances of grave emergency. It is not the kind of offence or evil which is covered in my opinion by the mere offensive and disgusting action of publishing details which a stipendiary magistrate justly, or otherwise, whether prejudiced or not, might consider indecent. It seems to me, there- fore, as Lord Sumner has indicated, to be such a far-reaching proposal that it is not likely for a moment that the other House would consider it.


I should like to associate myself with that which my noble friend Lord Sumner has said. I think that this Amendment will greatly jeopardise the passage of this Bill, which I myself would very much like to see passed. After all, we are entering upon a somewhat new line of legislation as regards the right of the public to know what goes on in the Law Courts and, while I entirely agree with the principle of the Bill, I think we ought to be very careful to go by steps. Indeed, I do not believe for a moment that we should have the least chance of passing this Amendment in another place. We must go by steps in trying to carry out that which the promoters of the Bill have in view. Already considerable penalties are enacted in this Bill. Offenders are liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or to a fine not exceeding five hundred pounds, or to both such imprisonment and fine.

If you want magistrates to convict and do not want them to get nervous about the newspapers, it would be wiser to leave the Bill as it stands. It will be urged upon the magistrate each time that he must decide the very difficult consideration as to what is— … in relation to any judicial proceedings any indecent matter or medical, surgical or physiological details … the publication of which would be calculated to injure public morals… That is a very large subject to leave to the magistrates. If it is found, after this novel legislation has been working for a while, that the penalties here proposed are not a sufficient deterrent—though I do not anticipate that this will happen—it will then be time enough to come to the Legislature and ask them to strengthen the hands of the Ministry. I am perfectly sure that if you are going to carry with you the newspaper world—you may sneer at it as you like, but it is not unimportant—and the public generally when you adopt a new line of legislation such as this, it is far better to go by degrees than to make such drastic alterations as will turn against you a great deal of the newspaper world and very many of the public who would like to see a Bill of this kind passed.


Speaking as a layman, I venture to agree entirely with the remarks of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Sumner and Lord Carson. We are all anxious that this Bill should pass, and I do not anticipate, having been a member of the House of Commons for more years than I care to remember, that, if we put in this very drastic Amendment, we shall be able to save the Bill. As has been said, the Press will be mobilised against it. I think it will be well worth while to accept the Bill as it stands rather than insist upon this Amendment. I would point out to the noble and learned Lord who moved the Amendment that, although the great newspapers with large circulations, as the noble and learned Lord said, may not regard the fine provided in subsection (2) as a sufficient inducement to carry out the Act, there is also a liability of imprisonment for the person responsible, who will be the editor, and, surely, this penalty will be imposed in the event of a newspaper breaking the law on more than two or three occasions. I venture to put it very strongly to my noble and learned friend opposite that he would really be risking the passage of this Bill if he insisted upon this Amendment. The Bill would be lost, and I am sure that this House and, I think, the other House is very anxious that the Bill should be passed in its present form.


The Government are not, of course, responsible for this Bill, but I venture to add my views to those of the noble Earl, and to say that my noble and learned friend would take a course favourable to the. Bill if he withdrew this Amendment at this stage. After all, it is rather a strong thing to ask Parliament to authorise a magistrate to suspend a newspaper for a period not exceeding six months. If it were proposed to give this power to a Judge of the High Court, it might be a different matter, but to give it to a court of summary jurisdiction is a thing to which I, for one, cannot assent. I may add that I believe that the representatives of the best newspapers in this country share with this House the desire to put an end to certain practices which obtain to-day, not I think to any great extent but to some extent, and to purify the Press, and I want to keep their collaboration. I know that they intend to consult together with regard to this Bill, and to see whether they can make any suggestion which will improve it or make it more suitable for the approval of Parliament, and I am glad to think that we shall have, at all events their advice, and possibly their co-operation. That being so, I think force is added to the view of my noble friend Lord Sumner and other speakers that it is better not to insist on putting a provision of this kind into the Bill.


This proposal was part of a series of proposals, one of which was that this drastic power should be in the hands of Judges of the High Court with resort to the Court of Criminal Appeal, but, after that which has been said by noble Lords on both sides of the House, I do not wish to press this proposal any further, and I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

LORD MERRIVALE moved, after subsection (2), to insert the following new subsection:— (3) No prosecution for an offence under this Act shall be commenced by any person without the sanction of the Attorney-General. The noble and learned Lord said: I think that this Amendment is very desirable to prevent prosecutions being commenced at the instance of irresponsible persons all over the country, and to ensure that, when they are commenced, they shall be properly conducted.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 17, at end, insert the said new subsection.—(Lord Merrivale.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.