HL Deb 21 April 1955 vol 192 cc516-42

4.24 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, when this measure was before your Lordships' House for its First Reading some few weeks ago, the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, intervened to ask whether samples of what are familiarly called "horror comics" could be put in your Lordships' Library, because, he added, not much to our surprise, he had not previously had the opportunity of studying one. I accordingly took six or so from the fairly notable collection we have now amassed in the Home Office, and put them in the Library, and your Lordships have now had the opportunity of examining the type of publication with which this Bill is solely concerned. Your Lordships will probably share my own view, which is, first, one of astonishment that anyone should bother to publish such rubbish as this, and, second, that anyone should bother to read such boring and uninteresting nonsense. But, apparently, our views are not shared by the large number of readers who do, in fact, study these so-called "horror comics" and who are undoubtedly, if evidence is to be believed, harmed by them. It is to prevent the harm caused by these so-called "horror comics"—which are about the most uncomic productions most of us have set eyes upon—that we are asking for a Second Reading.

The sole purpose of the Bill is, as I have just stated, to deal with "horror comics." As your Lordships will appreciate, the Bill is very narrow in its scope. For this limitation in scope, the Bill has been criticised. It has been suggested that we should have gone much wider and tried to deal with the whole question of obscenity. It is not possible at present to deal with the wider question of the general law relating to obscenity. Much as we naturally admire the energy and enthusiasm of people like Sir Alan Herbert and his friends in the literary world who have attempted to tackle this thorny problem, we must, I am quite convinced, confine ourselves at the moment to the leading purpose of the Bill, and that for two reasons. The first is that the purpose which would-be reformers of the general law of obscenity have in mind is a highly controversial one, ranging much further than this Bill. The second, as I am sure your Lordships will appreciate, is that time is the essence of this particular Bill. I am sure that your Lordships will also appreciate the difficulties with which the Government have been faced in framing a Bill narrow enough to achieve its very limited purpose, and, at the same time, to do as little as possible—in fact, if possible to do nothing at all—in the way of setting up anything in the form of censorship, and to interfere as little as possible with freedom of expression. That, obviously, is a difficult thing for any draftsmen, grappling with this particular problem, to do.

The main purpose of the Bill is contained in Clause 1, which defines works to which the Bill applies by reference to their form and manner of presentation. Since the Bill is designed to deal only with the special problem of "horror comics," the form of the works to which it applies has been very closely defined. It has been defined in this way: The work"— if one can call this sort of thing a work— must be a book, magazine or other like work. That, of course, immediately excludes newspapers. It must consist wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures (with or without the addition of written matter). The position of the words "wholly or mainly" is very important. When the Bill was introduced it was said, I think, by some newspapers that it applied to works "consisting of stories told wholly or mainly in pictures." That is not the wording of the Bill. If I may repeat it again, the wording of the Bill is that It must consist wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures … What we are trying to do is to define in Parliamentary language a strip cartoon. A work "consisting of stories told wholly or mainly in pictures" would be much wider, and might well include something like the magazine Picture Post or a generously illustrated edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales. Neither of these types of publication is covered by the definition in the Bill. The purpose of the words in brackets is to cover the addition of a small amount of text connected with the pictures, or the inclusion in the pictures of words spoken by the characters. But it is essential, if the work is one to which the Bill applies, that it should be the pictures which tell the stories.

The stories must portray one or more of three things—(a) the commission of crimes, or (b) acts of violence or cruelty, or (c) incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature. The Bill contains no reference to stories dealing with sexual matters, because that can be dealt with under the existing law relating to obscenity. This accounts for the fact that the actual stories in these "horror comics" do not carry many allusions to sexual matters. As regards the manner of presentation of the works, the Bill applies to those works in which the stories are portrayed in such a way that the work as a whole would tend to corrupt a child or young person into whose hands it might fall. The words "as a whole" are included to ensure that the court must direct its attention to the whole publication and not to isolated pictures or stories. Your Lordships may well argue that the test of whether the work would tend to corrupt is too vague. However, it does not seem possible to make the test any more precise, and, having regard to the very limited application of the Bill and the fact that no proceedings may be taken without the consent of the Attorney-General, I would submit to your Lordships that there is no serious danger that proceedings will be taken in circumstances in which they are not justified.

I grant that the matter which has given us most concern is the possibility of the abuse of powers contained in the Bill to prevent the publication of pictorial matter against which the Bill is not aimed. Several examples have been given in the debates in another place, in the Press and in discussions, which might fall within the terms of some part of the definition contained in Clause 1, which I have just explained to your Lordships, but so far as I have been able to see none of these is governed by the whole definition. Most of them have been given as examples which might fall within the paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of Clause 1. Paragraphs (a) and (b) have been said to cover such things as Three Blind Mice—the words "who cut off their tails with a carving knife"—or Tom Brown's Schooldays, or the story of David and Goliath; and it has been suggested that paragraph (c) might well cover Goya's celebrated Horrors of War, or Hogarth's Rake's Progress, or the pictures on the ceiling of the Crypt Chapel here in Westminster, or the story and pictures of Belsen, or even road safety propaganda. All these have been given as examples; but though these might possibly in some portion be covered, I do not think they fall within the definition as a whole.

I think we must be realistic about this matter. It is easy to think up some ludicrous or semi-ludicrous, or even serious, example which might fall within one or other of these paragraphs, but I think that if your Lordships will examine the Bill as a whole with an open mind you will see that the Bill makes it virtually inconceivable that it could be applied to cases such as these. Frankly, it would be a pretty silly court or a silly Attorney-General who could not tell Three Blind Mice from a "horror comic."

There are two obvious guiding factors. The work must be one consisting wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures. Secondly, and more important, the stories must be portrayed in such a way that the work as a whole would tend to corrupt a child or young person into whose hands it might fall. Of course, the meaning of the word "corrupt" is open to question, but I think it is now pretty familiar. We must trust benches and juries to be reasonable over this matter. Of course, we should agree that these are not infallible, and for that reason the Government have included in the Bill a further safeguard: no proceedings in England and Wales can be taken without the Attorney-General's permission. Furthermore, Parliament are to review the operation of the Bill in ten years' time. That is Clause 1, the main and operative part of the Bill, and obviously the one which causes the greatest difficulty. The rest of the Bill need occasion your Lordships little concern. Clause 2 deals with penalties and provides for special defence to the retailer who in some circumstances might be genuinely unaware of what he was selling. Clause 3 deals with the procedure for obtaining a search warrant and an order for the destruction of harmful publications.

This Bill raises no Party points of any sort. I think its aims clearly have your Lordships' support and a wider support outside in the country. It had a unanimous Second Reading and Third Reading in another place, and there has been strong public support for the Bill. The need for it is not so evident now, because I am assured that the publication of these "horror comics" has temporarily ceased or, at least, greatly slowed down. But, as the noble Viscount the Acting Leader of the House, Lord Woolton, pointed out to your Lordships on Tuesday, publication would certainly start again if the Bill were to be dropped. The Government have been under strong pressure to introduce legislation along these lines. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary received an influential deputation, led by the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, which urged that it was not enough to leave the matter to public opinion and to the efforts of parents and teachers.

I hope the Bill will not lead to a large number of prosecutions; indeed, I shall be surprised if any are brought at all. I cannot honestly say that this is a Bill which the Government rejoice to bring before the House; the Government are unhappy that it should be necessary to bring in such a Bill as this. I must assure the House that this Government have done everything in their power to see that the Bill is drafted as narrowly as possible to deal with this one problem, and this problem alone, and in no way to encroach upon freedom of expression. That is our main difficulty, and that is the difficulty which I hope I have proved to your Lordships we have successfully overcome. It is necessary to pass this Bill in order to show Parliament's determination that children and young persons shall be protected from the harmful effects of this type of filth. Your Lordships are asked to agree that this Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Bill be read a second time in order that this publication, the "horror comic," shall be read no more. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

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

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, I confess that I have had an opportunity of looking through the volumes of "horror comics" which were placed in the Library of your Lordships' House. Originally there were six specimens, but when I went to look at them to-day I am sorry to say that only three were left. However, I have studied the three, and I must say that I have never come across in my life more disgraceful, more discreditable and more abominable publications. I am thoroughly at one with the noble Lord in saying that they have to be stopped. I should be horrified to think that any child or grandchild of mine was ever going to be in a position to read such publications. The only quarrel I have with the noble Lord is that he talked about obscenity and obscene publications as though these were concerned only with sex matters. I do not think that either by definition or in ordinary English "obscene" is so defined, and it may well be that these publications could be dealt with as obscene publications, even though they are not of a sexual character in the ordinary sense.

I think it worth while to quote the names of the people responsible for these publications, because a little publicity in matters of this sort does no harm at all. One was printed by a firm called the Arnold Book Company, 2, Lower James Street, Piccadilly. "Arnold" is an odd name to appear in connection with these publications—it goes without saying that they have no connection with Matthew or Edward Arnold. The other two come from Leicester. They are printed by a firm called the Jenson Book Company Limited, Oadby, Leicestershire; distributed by a firm called Thorpe and Porter, Limited, of Leicester; and published by Hermitage Publications Limited, of Leicester. I think it desirable, contrary to usual practice, to state these names, and I hope that all these persons are thoroughly ashamed of what they have issued. I think they are so utterly discreditable that the House would be failing in its duty if it did not assist Her Majesty's Government in taking steps to stop them.

On the other hand, there is a very real difficulty of definition here. I say frankly that I would rather have the Bill as it is, though I think it is defective, than no Bill. I hope from what I have said that no one will suggest that I am trying to raise difficulties about the Bill, which must pass; but, as a revising Chamber, this difficulty of definition is exactly the sort of thing we can help to solve, and I should like your Lordships to consider whether we are not inadvertently casting our net too widely and bringing within the scope of the Bill many things we do not desire to bring within it. Although I know all the difficulties about Parliamentary time, I hope the suggestions I am going to make, which are couched from that point of view, will receive consideration.

The noble Lord has analysed the Bill. As he said, it applies to "any book, magazine or other like work." In due course I am going to ask what is intended by the words "other like work." Do they include, for instance, a photographic album of snapshops? Do they include those old cases we used to have, of loose photographs? Do they include a film? Do they include a newspaper? I cannot understand why they should not include a newspaper, so long as the other conditions are satisfied. The Attorney-General said in another place—and I gave notice to the Lord Chancellor of the fact that I would raise this point (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 538 (No. 60), col. 2314): A horror comic as defined by this Bill could not amount to a newspaper. As the Committee will see, this clause is very carefully drawn. It says: '…work which consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures…' It does not say, 'work which consists of stories wholly or mainly told in pictures.' That is a very important point… I can only say for myself that I completely fail to understand that distinction. I do not think it is a good distinction, and I do not see why a newspaper should not be included so long as it satisfied the other conditions.

I have never seen a newspaper which consisted "wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures"; the printed matter always completely outweighs the rest, so far as I know. In these recent days we have been favoured by getting that excellent paper the New York Herald-Tribune. Your Lordships have become accustomed to it now, and you will have noticed that the last page always consists of cartoons. They are perfectly proper cartoons and have nothing objectionable about them. But even if they were improper, that paper would not come within this Bill, because nine-tenths of the paper is concerned with reading matter and only one-tenth with this sort of thing. But if there was a newspaper consisting of nine-tenths of undesirable cartoons and only one-tenth reading matter, then I should have thought it was obvious that the newspaper would come within the definition. On the Committee stage I shall ask for an explanation of what is intended to be covered by the words "or other like work," because we should not pass this Bill without knowing what we are doing.

Then we come to the words: which consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures. I am rather doubtful about that. If anybody wants to get round this Bill, all he has to do is to publish a magazine like those we have been looking at, being careful to have (shall I say?) five pages of cartoons and seven pages of printed matter. He might just include excerpts from one of the Waverly Novels, having seven pages of that and five pages of these beastly cartoons. He could then say: "My work does not consist wholly or mainly of these things." Your Lordships might consider—and here I am seeking to strengthen the Bill—whether it would not be better to have some such words as, "a substantial part of which consists of," or "consisting largely of." As I see it at the moment, there is an obvious way of getting round this Bill by having more reading matter than story matter.

Furthermore, the stories have to be stories portraying crimes, or acts of violence or cruelty, or incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature. And the test is whether it would tend to corrupt a child or young person into whose hands it might fall. I am in no way qualified to speak about what would tend to corrupt a child. It is just this sort of point (it is not for me to criticise the Lords Spiritual, and I know how busy they are with all sorts of matters) on which the guidance of the Lords Spiritual might have been of value to us, but unfortunately we are deprived of it. I can well understand that to read repulsive stories must tend to corrupt a child or young person. I suppose you take as your test the average sort of child: the law very often adopts a standard. "Negligence" is that which a reasonable man does not do, and you apply the abstract standard of "a reasonable man." I do not see why you should not apply the standard of "an average child," and ask yourselves whether the child is, or is not, likely to be corrupted.

I wondered what the attitude would be with regard to the old books on which I was brought up—and I hope that the modern generation is brought up on them, too. For instance, there is Struwwelpeter. I wished to refresh my memory and I sent my secretary to try to get a copy of Struwwelpeter. Since the publication of this Bill there has been an immense run on it, and if your Lordships want to get a copy you had better go quickly and get it—The Times Book Club is sold out completely. My secretary managed to get a copy at a shop in Bond Street. They had them already wrapped up and she was told that they could not understand why there was a rush. The rush is on because many people imagine that the publication of Struwwelpeter will be stopped after this Bill becomes an Act. I do not think it will be stopped, because I cannot think that anybody would say that Struwwelpeter tended to corrupt. It certainly can show acts of violence and crime. I remember—and I have refreshed by memory about it—being greatly impressed, when I was very small, with the awful fate of the little boy who sucked his thumbs. The door flew open, in he ran, The great, long, red-legged scissor-man. Then, your Lordships will remember, he cut the little boy's thumbs off, and there was a picture of blood dripping to the floor, and mamma comes in. Ah,' said mamma, 'I knew he'd come To naughty little Suck-a-Thumb'. That is a tale of horror; that is a crime. I suppose it has a good moral, which is that you must not suck your thumbs; and I suppose that it does not tend to corrupt the child. I do not think there need be so much of a hurried rush to buy the remaining copies of Struwwelpeter.

I do not like the idea of passing a Bill in completely general terms (if this is in completely general terms) and then putting in a provision that no prosecution shall be brought save with the consent of the Attorney-General, thereby saying to yourselves: "We have arranged for the thing be properly run, because the Attorney-General will prosecute only in suitable cases." I completely trust the present or any other Attorney-General of any Government not to allow any political considerations to influence him, and to do his duty; and he must have a discretion. But it is the function of Parliament to lay down the law, and not the function of the Attorney-General to exercise a kind of dispensing power. Therefore it is desirable that we should try to get our definitions precise and not content ourselves with wide definitions and take unction to ourselves by saying that the Attorney-General has to authorise a prosecution. I am sure that is the wrong way, and I feel sure that the Lord Chancellor will agree with me in that—and he and I have both been Attorney-General. It would be undesirable if it became a practice to pass a law in wide terms and rely on the Attorney-General to enforce that law only in what he thought were appropriate cases.

I confess that I think that the weakness of the Bill lies in the last test (I put the substance of it): Would it tend to corrupt the average child? With regard to books which are intended for children—or which cater for children, to use the unpleasant modern phrase—that seems to me a perfectly soured test. But with regard to other periodicals, which do not cater for children at all, that seems to me a completely wrong test. May I give your Lordships an illustration? I went out to Africa last summer, and a medical missionary came to me with a series of drawings or photographs showing the effect of a disease called Yaws which was prevalent amongst the Bantu and about which I had known very little. He had produced this work for a perfectly genuine scientific reason, and he wanted help in dealing with this terrible scourge. It was the most horrible and the most horrific thing I had ever seen. It was absolutely repulsive, and no one would have willingly let a child see such a thing: it might indeed have corrupted a child. I can well understand that a series of pictures showing, for instance, the dangerous effect of syphilis on childbirth would be the type of thing which must be produced and shown by one doctor to another, but should never come within the view of a child at all. Yet the test in all these things, whether they are scientific, or whatever they are, is: Would they "tend to corrupt" the child into whose hands they might fall? That seems to me to be an error in drafting.


Would the noble and learned Earl allow me to interrupt for one moment? Surely the pictures he described would not consist wholly or mainly of stories.


They certainly would consist of stories. They would be detailed pictures of the unfortunate woman, showing her state at one month, showing what treatment she had undergone, a photograph at the end of the second month, and so on. A description like that is a story of what has happened to this unhappy woman. How ridiculous it would be if a document of that sort were sent, for instance, by the President of the College of Physicians in Germany to the President of the College of Physicians in this country, and it had to pass the customs!

The question is: Can it or can it not be imported? The test as to whether it can be imported or not—which ultimately would have to be settled by a court of law—is whether or not it would corrupt the average child. Imagine this conversation when you get to the customs and show it to the customs officer. He would say, "You know all about the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act. I have to consider whether this would corrupt the average child." You would say: "But this is never going to be seen by a child." He would say, "I cannot help that: that is what the law says. If this work would corrupt an average child, I have to assume that there is an average child who would see it." That is obviously not intended in the case of works of art, about which the noble Lord gave illustrations—Goya's pictures of the Spanish Civil War, or the painting, which is manifestly a story told by Hogarth, of Marriage a la Mode, or "Gin Alley" (I think it is called) in the Rake's Progress. To test the admissibility of the importation of those books by asking what effect they would have upon the mind of an average child seems to me to be quite wrong.

The first Amendment I am going to suggest—and I suggest it now, not in the hope of receiving answers to-day, but because I want to help this Bill, and see whether these Amendments could not be considered between now and the next stage—is that we might insert in Clause 1, after the word "work", some such wording as: intended or calculated to be read primarily by children or young persons. If it is a children's book, then by all means have the test of the average child as your test. But if it is some kind of scientific work or work of art, then I suggest that the test of the hypothetical average child is pointless. I am not attempting to draft an Amendment now, and I merely offer this suggestion in order that the Lord Chancellor may consider whether something on those lines is appropriate. The point is simply this. It seems to me that the tests in the Bill as drafted, the ultimate test of the effect on the average child, is a perfectly good and sensible test in dealing with what I may call, broadly, children's publications. These things are, I suppose, the sort of things which appeal to children or young people, or possibly to those who have not acquired complete facility in the art of reading. By that means you would put on one side all these other problems of the scientific publications.

Take the story of Belsen. We all saw the photographs illustrating the atrocities at Belsen—and pretty beastly they were. It was right that we should know them. I have seen some photographs of the effects of the atom bomb on Hiroshima. I can imagine a pacifist organisation wanting to show scenes of what would happen if a hydrogen bomb fell here. None of us would want to stop those things, and the only point I am making is: Are we quite certain that our Bill has been drawn in such a way as not to hit at those things? Might the point not be met by having an Amendment at page 1, line 13, on these lines: Provided that nothing herein contained shall make it an offence to portray events which have happened, or events which might reasonably be expected to happen, if it is established that the portrayal or such events was made in good faith and in the belief that their portrayal was for the public benefit. Your Lordships may think that I am being very anxious about this—and I confess that I am. It seems to me that we are getting on to dangerous ground, and something like a censorship in this country, which is something none of us wants. We are all at one in what we do want, and we are all at one in not wanting to extend it to these other things. The only question is the difficulty of definition in drafting the right phraseology.

I have ventured to make those suggestions because I think they merit consideration, and I am sure that they will receive consideration from the Lord Chancellor. I say again that I think this Bill is necessary. I would rather have this Bill as it is than no Bill at all. But I think we must be very careful and, notwithstanding the political exigencies of the day, I am sure your Lordships will consider these matters carefully and will be careful to see that, in our endeavour to stop these things, we do not inadvertently cast our net so wide that we may stop other things which none of us desires to stop at all and introduce some kind of censorship which none of us desires.

The only other thing I have to consider is a possible way out of the difficulty. I do not know whether this suggestion would commend itself to the Government, and I am not sure that it would commend itself to my friends in another place; but a possible way out would be to have a shorter period for this Bill, with a power to extend it by Affirmative Resolution or something of that sort, in order that we might consider how this Bill works. I am, quite frankly, anxious about this. I think we have to consider between now and the Committee stage—and I hope the Lord Chancellor will give me a chance of meeting him and discussing these points between now and Committee stage—whether we cannot design a series of Amendments which will not have the effect of making loopholes (indeed, if I had my way I should make the measure more drastic, in some respects) but will meet the desire to see that the sort of things I have mentioned, which were not intended to be dealt with, are not in fact brought within the net.

We shall certainly do all we can to assist the Government in getting their Bill. There is no political issue between us here. I am perfectly satisfied that those of us who have seen those pictures in the Library will all agree in taking whatever steps we can to see that the children and young persons of this country are not exposed to the danger of periodicals of that sort.

5.1 p.m.


My Lords, like all noble Lords, I welcome this Bill. I think that all parents and everybody in this country want the youth of this generation to be brought up with a true —and I say "true" in its proper meaning—sense adventure, a sense of adventure which has stood this country so well and has done so well for us all in the past. The publications which we are discussing in no way whatsoever do that, but there are nowadays many stories of modern adventure, stories about test pilots. space rockets, mountaineering, the photographing of fish under the sea—one can go on for a long time mentioning them; they are all really good adventure stories—which will foster the spirit we want.

The other point I should like to make —and I have only one other point—is that this Bill will stop "horror comics" from getting into the hands of young people. In the past the young people have sometimes themselves bought them, but I am thinking particularly of what I consider to be an important point: that is, that parents have unwittingly bought these publications when visiting their sick children in hospital, because the outsides of these "horror comics" may look exciting. Parents buy them without reading them, and then deliver them to their children in hospital. In my opinion, that has done the children no good mentally, and I certainly know it has done them no good from the point of view of their physical condition whilst in hospital.

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, I venture to intervene in this debate, though not because I have any particular knowledge about these matters—indeed, I, like other speakers who have gone before me, had to come to the House of Lords to find "horror comics." I had never come into contact with what are described as "horror comics" before. I am not making any personal references; I am talking about this pernicious literature. I think it is deplorable and a terrible commentary on our civilisation at the present day that such things are published, with the object obviously or—do not let me overstate it—with the risk of corrupting children for the sake of the profit that is made out of these publications.

I would say to the Party opposite: "Here is where your profit motive may land you. Here is 'the freedom of the individual.' 'Set the people free!' and mike a profit out of their activities!"




Here, in a desperate and detestable way, is the logical sequence to that. I am glad that my noble and learned Leader has taken the step of reading out the names of those responsible for the publications that we have had before us, because I believe it right to expose these things, to bring those people to the bar of public opinion and to present them, I would say, with the opportunity of changing over to more wholesome publications. That would be a more desirable way than giving effect to the Conservative slogan of "Set the people free" by giving them the opportunity to carry on this industry and activity for their personal profit.

It seems to me also deplorable that Parents have not protected their children from the influence of these publications. They must accept most of the blame for the harm that has been done. This is all part of the present "Couldn't care less" attitude that is so widespread. Irresponsibility is one of the greatest evils of the present day. There is no doubt that much of what is read in this realm and other realms is a form of escapism: people trying to fill up their time by taking their minds away from their immediate surroundings. I was in a suburban part of London after the newspaper strike had commenced, and I had to spend some time at a station. I called at a bookstall and said: "You cannot be selling very much these days, now that there are no newspapers." I was informed that up to that time—the strike had then been running quite a number of days—at that bookstall more money had been taken than was taken normally because, in place of newspapers, people were buying the more expensive small magazines and small pieces of so-called literature to while away the time as they travelled in the trains. In fact, the bookstall was more flourishing, from the point of view of taking more money, than it had been when there were hundreds of newspapers available for sale.

I have said that this is largely a matter of escapism and carelessness which is so prevalent. Many young people bring children into the world, but they still wish to have the good times they enjoyed when they first met. Children interfere with the design of life that they wish to practise, so the children are neglected. The responsibility for their upbringing is shirked and the children are left largely to their own devices. They get bored and drift readily into mischief, into delinquency and even into crime. "Horror comics" become their literature, for these children, although neglected in the ordinary way of home life, are in many cases furnished with a good deal of money to spend, and they corrupt themselves with this kind of reading matter. There are other things they do, of course. For instance, they go far too often to the pictures—the pictures becomes their club. A census was taken in a number of Glasgow schools some time ago, and it was found that many children were going to a dozen picture performances in a week, and in between the two performances per night they had money to enable them to go and get something to eat.

In relation to work, at the present day young people become quite enthusiastic about the job they are doing, but before very long that work is interrupted by the call-up notice for National Service, and they go to that Service. I have seen statements to the effect—though I cannot confirm the fact—that the pernicious publications against which this Bill is directed form the favourite reading matter of the conscript. If that is so, it is a most regrettable situation, as I think every noble Lord will agree. In any case I believe that the period of National Service often sees a young man's enthusiasm for his job evaporate, and he comes back into civilian life with the urge, energy and initiative to a considerable extent lost. In the Services, he has been told that he must wait for orders instead of relying upon himself as, properly brought up, he might have done in civilian life. Well, war has been our portion for two generations, and I believe that one result of war has been that our moral standards have broken down, and in such an atmosphere an appetite for these detestable publications can be stimulated.

If I continued in this strain I should be considered irrelevant—I see that I get ready agreement to that statement—even allowing for the freedom allowed when a Bill is being discussed in your Lordships' House on Second Reading. I therefore conclude by saying that I look upon the subject matter of this Bill as a spotlight upon one aspect of the moral state of this reputedly Christian country. I venture to say that, in my opinion, to eradicate such evils as this we need to become more vitally Christian and not to be merely assenting Christians without doing anything about it in our own lives and in the life of the community in which we live. There is complete justification for the campaigns which are being carried on by such people as Dr. Billy Graham, I am glad to say most successfully in Glasgow at the present time, and for the Moral Rearmament effort to raise the standard of conduct in this country. Some people will remark, "Oh, here is a killjoy talking." That is the last thing the real Christian can possibly be, because there is no getting away from the fact that the surest road to real happiness is to practise the Christian life and live to the highest standards attainable in our civilisation.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I have seen one of these "comics" for the first time this morning and I find myself in entire agreement with the spirit of this Bill. I am most disturbed at what the noble Lord who has just sat down suggested: that because noble Lords on this side of the House were in favour of freedom, and that people should do what they wanted, it was somehow their responsibility that some people were making a profit from this sort of thing. I hope it was not the noble Lord's intention to suggest that, because I consider such a suggestion entirely unworthy of him. The noble Lord does not reply to my suggestion. I had hoped that he would rise to say that I had misunderstood him.


I cannot say that the noble Lord has misunderstood me. What I said was that here was freedom—licence if you like—taken by certain individuals for their own selfish ends to corrupt the children of this country. I said that that was where, in the long run, freedom could go if it were not guided by moral principles—at least, that is what I meant.


The noble Lord said much more than that.


I am glad that the noble Lord has explained a little of what he said, but I had hoped that he would withdraw the undoubted impression, which was gained I think by many noble Lords on this side, that the policy of the Government or the Parties composing the Government, by their wish to see greater freedom for the individuals of this country, was in any way responsible for this sort of disgusting thing going on. I take it that he withdraws that.


I make no personal reflections—I say quite definitely that I make no personal reflections. I say that it is possible for people on the other side of the House to be as good Christians as I try to be.


I thank the noble Lord very much for his explanation.

My Lords, I am going to be quite short I agree wholeheartedly with what the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, said. The only thing I feel a little difficulty about is the use in Clause 1 of the words "wholly or mainly" in regard to stories told in pictures. I should like to apply that to any part of it. The noble and learned Earl said there might be seven pages of reading matter and then six pages of this disgusting sort of thing. I should like there to be no question that even if there were ten pages of reading matter and one of the other, the same criterion should apply. I hope that the noble Lord who is in charge of this Bill will take that into consideration. Do not let us be too careful about the powers contained in this Bill. I feel that, with certain Amendments and reconstruction of some of the ideas, it will be quite safe for us to go ahead without in any way restricting the proper activities of the literary business of the country. We all know the difficulty that exists with regard to improper publications. As soon as a publication is barred there is a terrific sale for it. We want to do everything we can to deal with that sort of thing as well. That is all I have to say. I heartily support the spirit of this Bill and hope that, when it is amended, it will become 100 per cent. efficient.

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, there is one thing about which we all agree: that the noble Lord who introduced this Bill spoke for every Member of your Lordships' House. His opening sentence was that he could not understand how anyone with any intelligence at all could ever read one of these publications that have been in your Lordships' Library. But, as he also said, again quite rightly, the fact remains that they are read. As my noble and learned Leader has said, we support wholeheartedly the Government's action in introducing this Bill—they could do nothing less. Equally, as my noble and learned Leader said, we shall help all we can to see that it gets on to the Statute Book. If we can improve it I think it is our duty to do so, because Parliamentary discussion, free and frank, especially in your Lordships' House, is the mainstay of democracy in this country.


And we have had no national Press.


There is always one corollary in this country: that not only should there be free and frank discussion in Parliament but that free discussion, and the views expressed, should be printed in a free, published Press. Unfortunately, we have not had that in this country while this Bill has been debated. If my noble and learned Leader will permit me to say so, I think he put, with moderation and in an excellent manner, the criticisms which would, I believe, have appeared in the national Press, had that Press been free to publish. The one national newspaper that has been published during the discussion upon this Bill, the Manchester Guardian, has raised in a most constructive manner the same doubts as have been expressed by my noble Leader this afternoon.

The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said something which should set the keynote of any suggestions we have to make; that the object of the Government is to confine themselves to the narrow purpose of the Bill. We agree with that statement. Our fear is that the Bill may go further than is intended by Her Majesty's Government. We all have a horror of censorship, and the illustrations and suggestions of my noble Leader this afternoon will, I hope, commend themselves to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. For it would be a tragedy if your Lordships—the revising Chamber of the British Parliament—were to allow censorship to go through if, by diligence, we could settle the only issue between us: that is, the issue of scope and definition.

The Bill refers to children and young persons. The definition of a "young person" is a person from fourteen to seventeen years of age, and that conjures up in my mind some elasticity. As my noble friend said, there is the question of the interpretation by a customs official of whether the publication concerned would have a deleterious effect on morals or would corrupt a young person of seventeen years. To-day, young persons of seventeen read literature which might shock the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, and very likely myself, at our present age, let alone at the age of seventeen.


I have little knowledge on this subject.


I should not have thought the noble Viscount was any different from anybody else. I quite agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen. Let us be frank: when we were youngsters we all took somewhat of a delight in reading, now and again, what were called in those days "penny dreadfuls." I will admit that they were nothing like the filth that is in those publications which were put in your Lordships' Library; but in an effort to stop this kind of thing let us not set up a censorship which later on we shall bitterly regret.

On the Committee stage, let us, if we can, find a better definition which will be acceptable. Perhaps experience should teach us. In the last analysis we may fail, but Her Majesty's Government would do well to consider the suggestion of my noble and learned Leader, that we should pare down the ten years' life of this Bill. In our experience in this House since the war, we have seen many instances of regulations which were put on the Statute Book in war time being used for purposes quite foreign to the intention of Parliament when it passed those regulations. In ten years' time we might find even this Bill, as it is drafted to-day, used for purposes which the Government to-day, in all honesty and sincerity, strenuously deny is their intention. Noble Lords will be grateful for having had this opportunity of debating this subject this afternoon, for at least the national Press will now have an opportunity of commenting upon the views expressed, and of giving Parliament, or your Lordships' House, the benefit of their advice which we have lacked during this past month.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful for the tone and content of the speeches of this debate. I confess that when I was Home Secretary I had exactly the same hesitation about this problem as has been expressed today by noble Lords in all parts of the House. Here was a very difficult problem; but on the other hand there were 300 years of history during which there had been a tradition, common to all our political thought, against any imposition of something which might be the beginning of a censorship by the Government of the day. I will say quite frankly that after the further information that I received from my own Department, from teachers, from the Archbishop and from many people in all the Churches, I felt that the step we are now discussing was one that had to be taken. I am glad that that view is apparently shared by all who have spoken to-day. I should like to assure the noble and learned Earl who leads the Opposition, and who has given so much care to this subject, that we have tried to study his points. I should like him to understand that when I mention some aspects of them it is not in any "stonewalling" attitude of mind, but only so that he may know the kind of difficulty that has been in our mind. Perhaps that will assist us to get to the root of the matter.

On the first point, the words "wholly or mainly," we thought that we had guarded against that difficulty by the words "as a whole" which were inserted in the Bill. In a happy moment I was trying to follow out the example of the noble and learned Earl in his speech and envisage a "horror comic" of which the letterpress was one of the better-known commencements of the Waverley Novels. No one is a greater admirer of the Waverley Novels or has read them more than I; but I admit (though with some trepidation in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Mathers) that the first five pages have given even me a great deal of trouble at times. I should have thought if the courts had to deal with, possibly, five pages of "horror comics" and at the same time the description of Sherwood Forest that makes the beginning of Ivanhoe, or the story of the journey to Queensferry that makes the beginning of The Antiquary, they would not have had much difficulty in applying themselves mainly to the general narrative and ignoring the padding. Still, I agree with the noble and learned Earl that that is a matter which requires looking into.

The second point which he made—and he was good enough to let me know in advance what was in his mind—was what was meant by the words "intended or calculated." I draw the noble and learned Earl's attention to the difficulty which arises once intention is introduced as an element in the offence. Even at the moment some of the publishers of these "horror comics" have already taken the precaution of marking their publications—I quote from one: Definitely not for the squeamish, and should he kept away from the kiddies. I agree with Sir Frank Soskice who, in another place, described this as a piece of gross hypocrisy and dishonesty; but it does show the sort of difficulty which arises when intention becomes an element. So I would ask the noble and learned Earl to consider, just as I shall, with regard to his other word "calculated," whether that really takes us further than the question "into whose hands it might fall." I will certainly consider that point; and I should like the noble and learned Earl to consider my difficulty about "intention" in that regard.

Again, I see the weight of his point with regard to the recording of facts that have already occurred. But if he looks back in his practice at the Bar—I certainly look back to the murder cases which I have dealt with, either as counsel or as Home Secretary—he may think with me that it would be very difficult (I am simply putting my difficulties to the noble and learned Earl) if someone were to give a pictorial presentation of two cases with which I had to deal, and which I shall not mention to your Lordships to-day, to know whether that was done bona fide, because it would certainly have the effect of corrupting the young. Here again, I am sure the noble and learned Earl will consider the difficulties I have found, and I ask him to co-operate—as I am sure he will—on that point.

My noble friend Lord Goschen (and Lord Lucas of Chilworth picked it up) mentioned an important point—namely, that the cheerful and healthy "penny dreadful" is something which we have all enjoyed. As some of your Lordships may remember, in one of his most brilliant essays the late Mr. G. K. Chesterton said that these encourage not only courage but also the great feeling that right triumphs in the end. I do think—and I hope it is so—that we have avoided interfering with matter of that kind. I took the Oxford Dictionary definition of "corrupt." It is:"to render morally unsound; to pervert;… to debase, defile." I considered this very carefully when we were drafting the Bill, in order to ensure that it would not strike at the healthy publications to which my noble friend referred, and with a great many of which I have much sympathy.

The noble Lord, Lord Mathers, raised a very important point on which I want to say only one word, because it is a point of great width—or, I should rather say, of great depth. When I first had this problem brought to me I said that in my view it was a matter primarily for parents. It was only when I began to see the extent and the wide effect of the problem that I thought it was a matter for action by the State. But I am sure it was implicit in Lord Mathers' words—and I hope it will go out as being so— that the fact that we are legislating does not in any way remove the responsibility of the parents for their children's reading, and also for their children's general moral standards—one of our greatest problems to-day.

On the other point which Lord Mathers mentioned. I would put this question to him, because I think it is one of the most serious questions in political science or political philosophy—call it what you will: When comes the point at which you are prepared to apply compulsion? I believe—I do not ask those who take another political standpoint to agree with me—that my own Party have always tried and have always been ready to apply compulsion when there is a definite menace to the safety and the health of the people. I take, for example, the early Factory Acts, with which the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, is just as familiar as I, in which compulsion had to be applied in order to get safety, just as, in other matters, it is necessary to apply compulsion in order to ensure health. I believe that, when facing as clear and obvious a moral evil as this, one is entitled to apply compulsion, however much one may believe in freedom as a general principle. That is the way in which I have tried to approach it. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who spoke last, would, I think, generally accept that as an approach. I was very glad that my noble friend Lord Teviot made his contribution to the debate, and I shall certainly give full consideration to the points which he has raised, and also to the points which Lord Lucas of Chilworth made, speaking after him. I shall be very pleased to consider all these points.

There is only one, which I think comes logically last, and which I have not yet mentioned; and that was the point raised by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, about shortening the period for which the Bill is to continue in operation. On that matter we are in some difficulty. As he is aware, the proposal that the duration of the operation of the Bill should be limited to ten years was put forward in an Opposition Amendment which was moved in another place by Mr. Chuter Ede. As your Lordships know, Mr. Chuter Ede not only is a very distinguished member of the Opposition in another place, but was my predecessor as Home Secretary. The reason he advanced for selecting the period of ten years was that it would be as well to give publishers of "horror comics" clear notice that the House of Commons was determined to stamp out these publications. He thought that a period of less than ten years might not achieve that purpose. My right honourable friend, the present Home Secretary, accepted the Amendment and said that he agreed with Mr. Chuter Ede that it was desirable to make it plain that—I quote his words— We really mean to do away with these publications. I know that the noble and learned Earl has that point in mind. Naturally, on a matter like this one treats with great respect the view which Mr. Chuter Ede has expressed, and I add that as another point which I am asking the noble and learned Earl to look into before the next stage, as I shall look into it.


I am grateful to the noble and learned Viscount for putting this point. What I had in mind, in suggesting a shorter period, was that, owing to the Parliamentary exigencies at the present time, it might not be possible to give the Bill that spacious and careful consideration that is necessary; but of course, if we can do that, and if we can agree on these Amendments, then my point about the time during which the Bill runs goes altogether. I made the suggestion because we might have only a short time and it might be necessary for the Government to come back when the new Parliament assembled and consider this matter again. But if we can agree on Amendments on the lines I have suggested, there is no necessity for a shorter period of operation. In any case, I am not anxious to dispute any kind of bargain or quasi-bargain made between the Home Secretary and Mr. Chuter Ede.


I am grateful to the noble and learned Earl. It never crossed my mind that he was disputing any bargain which might have been made. What was worrying me was the importance Mr. Chuter Ede attached to the ten years term. I think we might consider (and on this matter I am sure the noble and learned Earl will find an opportunity to get the opinion of Mr. Chuter Ede) whether an agreement among all Parties in both Houses on a shorter term could be made, but made simply for the purpose of finding an early opportunity of dealing with the matter again. I do not think that that would give comfort to those publishers against whom we all want action to be taken, and I am perfectly ready to consider it. I do not see any incompatibility between the dual advances of the noble and learned Earl. If it turns out that we can reasonably contemplate having sufficient time, then let us consider the Amendments. If it turns out that there is no time, let us consider the other point and see how far we can get with it. If we find (I am only quoting the noble and learned Earl) that circumstances are too strong for us, I would rather have the Bill and see some blow struck in this way than leave the matter untouched. I should be glad to discuss the matter with the noble and learned Earl and other noble Lords before Committee stage. I now ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to the Bill.

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