HL Deb 24 January 1961 vol 227 cc1102-3

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government if it is proposed to take action under the Obscene Publications Act in respect of the book by Mr. Frank Harris, My Life and Loves, and if so, or in any other future prosecution of this kind, whether experienced editors, authors, and journalists might be called as witnesses for the Crown.]


My Lords, it is not for Her Majesty's Government to take action under the law relating to obscene publications in respect of any book or other material which might be alleged to be obscene. The duty of deciding whether to institute such proceedings rests with the Director of Public Prosecutions. I understand that at present there is available to the Director no evidence that would justify proceedings under the Obscene Publications Act, 1959, in respect of the book to which the noble Lord's Question refers.

In the second part of his Question the noble Lord asks whether in future prosecutions of this kind experienced editors, authors and journalists might be called as witnesses for the Crown. Under Section 4 of the Obscene Publications Act, an accused is entitled to be acquitted if he can prove that publication of the article in question is justified as being for the public good on the ground that it is in the interests of science, literature, art or learning or other objects of general concern. For the purpose of establishing or negativing this defence the opinion of experts may be admitted in evidence. It follows that unless an accused puts forward this defence, the Crown has no occasion to negative it and therefore cannot call expert witnesses. Since one cannot foresee the cases in which this defence might be relied upon, nor the particular circumstances of such cases, it follows that the second part of the noble Lord's Question is hypothetical and I regret that I cannot give him any answer to it.