HL Deb 27 April 1955 vol 192 cc609-14

3.28 p.m.

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

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD TERRINGTON in the Chair]

Clause 1:

Works to which this Act applies

1. This Act applies to any book, magazine or other like work which consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures (with or out the addition of written matter), being stories portraying—

  1. (a) the commission of crimes; or
  2. (b) acts of violence of cruelly; or
  3. (c) incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature;
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.

EARL JOWITT moved to omit "or other like work." The noble and learned Earl said: I do not intend to press this Amendment. I say at once that it is really put down to find out—I will not say "what the words mean," because, after all, whatever the Lord Chancellor and I may say in this Assembly, what the words mean will be finally decided by some judge or magistrate, who will very likely say that we were both completely wrong. I ask, what do the Government intend these words, "or other like work," to mean? I am moving this Amendment to leave them out so that I may ascertain the intention of the Government with regard to their scope. Whenever this word "other" appears in law, at once the mystery which lawyers call the eiusdem generis rule arises. If there are two words and then the word "other," it is obvious that the word "other" is meant to cover things which are in the genus embraced by the first two words. There is, for instance, the classical example of …shoes—and ships—and sealing wax. Suppose you stop there and say "and other like things," you have to find a genus. The only genus you could there find would be things made, I suppose, by the hand of man—"shoes and ships and sealing wax." But if you go on with the rhyme and add: … cabbages—and kings, I defy anybody to find any genus at all: "and other like things" would be very difficult to limit in any way whatever.

Here we have got the words: This Act applies to any book, magazine or other like work … I am tempted to ask a few questions. First of all, let us try to get the genus. What have a book or a magazine in common? They are generally bound—I do not know whether that is an essential part of it. They are generally printed. But of course one can have a book in manuscript, so that does not seem to be the test. I do not know exactly where a book differs from a magazine, although we all know what in common parlance we call a magazine and what we call a book. But would a newspaper be included in "or other like work," always assuming that the newspaper has satisfied the other conditions of the clause? I have never seen a newspaper, nor do I suppose there has ever been one, which consists wholly of mainly of "horror comics"—that is to say, wholly or mainly of stories told by pictures of an undesirable character. But if such a newspaper were to come into existence, would it come within the description "or other like work"? For my part, I should say that it would. I should have thought it was covered by the mischief mentioned in the clause. But the Attorney General in another place expressed the confident view that it could not come in. I humbly say that I was not satisfied by his argument at all. I am quite satisfied that there never has been such a newspaper—at least, I have never seen such a newspaper. But if one assumes that a newspaper did consist wholly or mainly of these stories and that the stories were of an undesirable nature, then I should have thought it would come within those words, and I should have thought it only right that it should do so.

The next question is in regard to films. Recently in a newspaper I saw that a resolution had been passed against the showing of what are usually called "trailers"—that is, the short films which are shown in front of the main films—which are said to be blood-curdling and unpleasant. Would those films come within the description "or other like work"? After all, a book or a magazine or any printed matter—a newspaper, if that comes in—has this tendency, I suppose: that it appeals to the mind through the eye, because you read it, and not through the ear, as ordinary broadcasting does. Of course, a film appeals to the eye and, if it is a talking film, to the ear as well. I do not know, but would that come within the mischief? I am not making the smallest complaint if it does; it may well do. Nowadays I am afraid I do not see many "trailers," but if "trailers" have the evil effect that was suggested in the papers yesterday I should not at all mind their coming within the words of this clause.

I move this Amendment not in any hostile sense; I move it merely as a matter of form, in order that the Lord Chancellor may state the belief of the Government as to what these words contain. I couple it with these two questions: would it include a newspaper if the newspaper met the other requirements which come later; and, would it include a film? What are the "other like works" which the Government have in mind in inserting these words? I do not complain at all of the insertion of the words, because they are often inserted to make it impossible to raise some wholly technical and unworthy point. But what have the Government in mind in inserting those words? To enable the Lord Chancellor to make his statement on that point, and for no other reason, I beg to move this Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 5, leave out ("or other like work").—(Earl Jowitt.)


I should like to put a question to the Lord Chancellor before he replies. If I may say so, this is a most extraordinary Bill; its wording is of an astonishing kind. How can you have an "other like work" to a book or magazine? A book and a magazine are two entirely different things. How can you compare something to two unlikes? What exactly is the meaning of these words. Surely a book and a magazine are two completely different things. In regard to the point raised by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, about films (and here I must disclose an interest in the film industry), I was rather sorry that he should have taken the newspaper report in regard to "trailers" as being accurate. As he is no doubt aware, the film industry in this country subjects itself, quite rightly, to a voluntary censorship—by a body called the British Board of Film Censors. They would be the people to deal with that matter. I do not think it comes into the Bill at all. However, I hope that the Lord Chancellor will answer the point as to how one can compare two unlikes in the way this Bill does.


I am grateful to the noble and learned Earl for putting down this Amendment, and to my noble friend Lord Winterton for adding to the powerful cross-examination to which I have been subjected, in anticipation. As the noble and learned Earl was speaking, my mind worked retroactively to the lines before those which he quoted—namely, The time has come, the Walrus said To talk of many things: Certainly, the noble and learned Earl, if he will allow me to put it in that way, enumerated them all. As I think will be clear to your Lordships, the words were included in the Bill to ensure that there could be no possibility of evasion by a technical argument that a particular work was neither a book nor a magazine. I have tried to get, in as short a form as would not weary your Lordships, the essentials of the definition of "book" in the large Oxford dictionary, and I think it can be put in this way: A publication consisting of numerous sheets fastened together at one edge called the back, the whole thing protected by binding of some kind. I think this will help my noble friend Lord Winterton: "book" has the connotation of some permanence in its format or "get-up"; and it will be noted, the Oxford dictionary attaches importance to the binding and the back. In contradistinction to that, a magazine has a more ephemeral framework, as anyone who travels late in the day in railway carriages will have observed for himself. Therefore, in replying to the noble and learned Earl's question as regards the genus into which both words fall, I suggest that the answer is a publication, whether permanent or ephemeral, which conveys its contents to the eye of the beholder by printed representation. I think that that definition covers the noble and learned Earl's point. I think it is a genus which would at any rate form a reasonable basis for the eiusdem generis rule. The answer to my noble friend Lord Winterton is that the eiusdem generis rule ought not to be applied, and Bills ought not to be drafted, unless there is a reasonable similarity which enables one to get a genus which is not so wide as that connoted by the lines of poetry quoted by the noble and learned Earl.

To come to the other point upon which he asked questions, in my view the words do not extend the scope of the Bill to such things as an album of snapshots or loose photographs, or to a film—those are some of the things which are troubling the noble and learned Earl—because they would not, on any reconstruction of the genus, come within the eiusdem generis rule. With regard to the question of newspapers, the words are designed to catch what one might call the pamphlet, a few pages put together. The words would not permit anyone to escape by saying, "I have only eight or sixteen pages, and that cannot be called a magazine." I should think, also, that the broadsheet would similarly be caught.

On the difficulty which the noble Earl raised regarding newspapers, in the ordinary way, with that optimism which carries humanity along its weary course, we all believe that newspapers should convey news and comments on the events of the day. Ordinarily, we are not disappointed; but the difficulty on which the noble and learned Earl has put his finger is, for example, a children's newspaper. He and I are both familiar with that from the grandpaternal standpoint. The children's newspaper (of which there are many admirable examples) contains a great many pictures and some simple stories. This type of newspaper has, I believe, already become a separate genus; but if someone were malicious enough to purport to publish a children's newspaper, as we understand the term, and, in fact, to put in it objectionable matter of this kind, there is no doubt that he would be caught.

From that point of view, this is merely a matter of words, of what we understand by the term "newspaper." But I do not want to give comfort to anyone who may think he can get round the Bill by producing a disguised children's newspaper of a sinister type. The noble and learned Earl put to me the words used by my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General in another place. The point my right honourable friend was seeking to make was that the Bill applied only to those works in which pictures tell the story: it does not apply to stories told in words, with lavish illustrations. I think that is cleat from the drafting of the Bill and I hope that his words, with that limitation, will commend themselves to the noble and learned Earl. I am sorry to have detained your Lordships, but I have tried to deal with all the cross-examination that was put to me and I hope I have so satisfied the noble and learned Earl that he will not press his Amendment.


I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has stood up very well to his cross-examination and leaves the court without a stain on his character. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

House resumed.