HL Deb 28 April 1955 vol 192 cc625-8

3.5 p.m.

An Amendment reported (according to Order).

Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been suspended (pursuant to Resolution of April 20):


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a third time. I have no further observations to offer on behalf of Her Majesty's Government concerning this Bill, save to thank the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, for the most careful and helpful way in which he has considered this measure, as a result of which I think it has undoubtedly been improved. Having nothing further to say, I do not propose to occupy twenty minutes of your Lordships' time explaining why, but I understand that the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Ripon, desires to address your Lordships. If he should have any point to raise upon which I can be of any assistance to him, or to the House, I am naturally available when I come to reply to the debate.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Mancroft.)


My Lords, even though it involves inflicting a speech upon your Lordships, and that a maiden speech, I feel that a Bishop should speak at some stage about this Bill. It was unfortunate that, owing to the rearrangement of business, there was no Bishop present on the Second Reading of the Bill. For that I apologise, and I hope I make amends by speaking now, better late than never. Here I speak not only for the Church of England but for all branches of the Christian Church in this country. The Church has long been deeply concerned about the harm done to young people by these so-called comics. As long ago as 1949, the body known as the Mothers' Union, to its honour, began to call attention to the danger, and invited the co-operation of the women of other Christian bodies. But when legislation was suggested, the reply was that any form of censorship would be inconsistent with our general freedom of speech and thought, and would impinge upon the freedom of the Press.

Last year, however, encouraged, I understand, by what had been done in New Zealand, the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury led a deputation to the Home Secretary about this matter, which was most sympathetically received. In November last, a Motion calling attention to the danger from these comics and asking for action to deal with them was passed unanimously by the Church Assembly. I do not wish to suggest that the Church alone was concerned about the matter. Teachers and many others engaged in work among children were equally perturbed and anxious to arouse public opinion. I am sure that I speak for others besides the Churches when I express gratification that legislation has been found possible, with support from all Parties in the State.

But the Bill will not solve the problem by itself. There is still much to be done. The purpose of the Bill is negative. There is great need of positive action to replace the bad by the good, and to inculcate in children and in their parents—which is just as necessary—the love of the better. All children have, and should have, a love for stories of adventure. The particular form of story in pictures seems to have a great appeal to them. There are already in existence comics, some of them edited by a priest of the Church, which portray adventure in plenty but in a healthy manner, without anything sadistic or criminal. That may sound a strange occupation for a clergyman, but I am sure it is a valuable work of social and Christian service. The circulation of such comics should be fostered in every possible way, and parents must be encouraged to see that their children satisfy their love of tales of adventure in ways which will not be harmful. That is a positive task to which the Churches and other bodies of people who care for the true nurture of our children must, and will, devote themselves wholeheartedly.

In this task they will be much encouraged and assisted by the passing of this Bill, which will, we hope, clear the ground. I am told that the very fact that it is before Parliament has already led to the disappearance from circulation here of most, if not all, of these "horror comics." The greatest success of this Bill will be if no prosecution under it ever proves necessary. That this may be so is the hope and wish of all those for whom I speak and in whose name I welcome this Bill.

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, I rise for only a brief moment. By rising, I have the privilege of congratulating the right reverend Prelate on surviving so well the ordeal of a maiden speech, and of telling him how glad we are to have heard that maiden speech so successfully accomplished, and that we hope we shall hear from him often in the future. This House has traditionally owed much to the fact that we have the Lords Spiritual. The other day I ventured to call attention to the fact that, though dealing with a Bill of this sort, we were not favoured by the presence of the Lords Spiritual—because I think it is on occasions such as this that we can derive great help and benefit from their presence. When I look at the pictures outside and observe that the Bishops' Bench is crowded with Prelates in their accustomed robes, and I see that to-day the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Ripon is in solitary splendour, I myself wish that we had more of the good old days and more Bishops present, for they can make and have made in the past a valuable contribution to our debates.

I find myself completely at one with the right reverend Prelate when he says that the best justification for this Bill may be that there will never have to be a prosecution under it. What we all hope is that this type of magazine or journal, or whatever it may be called, which we have seen in the Library of this House, will never be allowed to disgrace this country again. In that fervent hope I find myself completely at one with the right reverend Prelate. I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, really has anything to reply to, but I am taking this opportunity of thanking him for what he said about me and the small part I have been able to play in the consideration of this Bill.


I have indeed nothing to which to reply, but I hope that the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, will not deny me, too, the pleasure of saying how pleased we were to hear the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate, and how much we welcome the powerful support which this Bill has now received from the Episcopal Benches. The right reverend Prelate made one remark which I should like to endorse. He said he hoped that there would be no prosecution and that he understood that since this Bill first made its appearance the "horror comics" had practically disappeared from circulation. That is quite true. May I once again emphasise the point that, were we not passing this Bill, I am certain that this mushroom growth of "horror comics" would once again appear, with virulence and speed. That is why we are so indebted to the House for according an easy passage to this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendment, and passed, and returned to the Commons.