§ 2.46 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD rose to call attention to the problems and incipient menace of pornography in Great Britain; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I rise to move tile Motion standing in my name. I am seeking to open up for discussion this afternoon the whole field of pornography in Britain: books, newspapers, magazines, advertisements of all kinds, the theatre, films, television, exhibitions, communications through the Press, and anything else which the more sophisticated Members of the House may be aware of and which I have not studied. I do not wish to restrict debate by laying down a hard and fast definition of "pornography" at this stage, although we may approach one to-day or later.640
TheShorter Oxford Dictionarydefines "pornography" as,
The expression or suggestion of obscene or unchaste subjects in literature or art.
Mr. Kenneth Tynan, Literary Consultant of the National Theatre who devised and part wroteOh! Calcutta!has defined "pornography"—and I am quoting Mr. Tynan—as:
writing that is exclusively intended to cause sexual pleasure.
I am anxious to spare your Lordships as many unpleasant words as possible this afternoon, but in fairness to Mr. Tynan I must quote the next sentence:
Hard core pornography has a simple and localised purpose—to induce an erection. As such the liberals at heart disdain it. And the public as a whole seems eager to burn it.
I hope that in both respects Mr. Tynan is right. He himself considers—and now I quote him again:
that it deserves a few words of exculpation and thanksgiving.
So Mr. Tynan offers up a few words of thanksgiving for hard core pornography, and I think it is not ungenerous to suggest that that is the point of view of which0h! Calcutta!is presumably the outcome.
The "little red book", which your Lordships will have read about, looks on it in much the same way. I have this little volume here in case anybody wants to study it. I realise that that is a two-edged suggestion, but at any rate this "little red book" is here available. It has recently been seized by the police and summonses have been issued against the publisher. This little book says—and I am now quoting it:
Magazines, pictures and books which are produced purely to excite people sexually are called pornography or porn. It is quite possible"—
says this little book whose affairs are nowsub judice—
that you may get some good ideas from it"—
that is from pornography—
and you may find something which looks interesting and which you haven't tried before.
That is the end of the quotation from the "little red book".
Some of us may be helped by the definition provided by the late D. H. Lawrence—and surely we have not yet
reached the point where D. H. Lawrence can he written off as "an old square". That will come, but some of us must imagine that we are still more or less "with it" if we quote D. H. Lawrence.
said D. H. Lawrence—
is the attempt to insult sex, to do dirt on sex.
He then said:
Even I would censor genuine pornography rigorously.
§ We can, I hope, my Lords, agree that this subject is of widespread interest and significance, but it is full of pitfalls. Various points of view can be held with intense sincerity and I have no doubt will be stated this afternoon. Let me indicate at once my own starting point: pornography, in my conviction, has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished. That is my profound conviction. So far, if you like to say so, I am committed. But I am not at all dogmatic as to how pornography can be, or ought to be, diminished. There I am open-minded, anxious to hear what other noble Lords have to say, and after this debate, as I will explain before I close, I am hopeful that we can push the exploration further.
§ It is one thing to say that pornography ought to be diminished; it is another to say that any particular piece of pornography—the "little red book" or anything else—ought to be banned. It is yet another thing to agree on general rules for bringing pornography under control. Most people in this country instinctively dislike pornography when they hear about it or, still more, when they see it. But they also instinctively dislike censorship. The fear is common in many civilised minds that if filth is banned, free expression will be interfered with in all sorts of unpredictable ways. Clearly, therefore, any reform intended to restrict pornography must: be seen to the general public to be compatible with our national and traditional freedoms.
§ Must I spend time (I should not think so) on the proposition that in this country pornography has increased? Certainly there is a widespread impression to that effect. I have been around in public life for a long time—too long, it may be argued—but never have I received a flood 642 of letters remotely resembling those which have come my way since it was known that I was putting down this Motion and it was spoken about on the wireless. I have been unable to count them all, but I had received about 500 by the end of last week; over 450 came in yesterday, and I must have received well over 1,000 by now, many of them containing more than one signature. The letters have come from all parts of the country, including (if I may put it that way) Scotland and Wales and, I am glad to say, Northern Ireland. I was particularly pleased, in view of other associations, that I should be supported by Presbyterian feeling in Northern Ireland. The letters have come from all social classes, from all religious denominations, church and chapel groups figuring very widely, and also, naturally, from parents, doctors, teachers, welfare and other social workers, young and old. I repeat that these letters come from young and old. I cannot begin to mention all the organisations that have written to me, either local or national, although I can hardly refrain from mentioning the National Council of Women and the Mothers' Union.
My Lords, however one chooses to define pornography, and whatever view one takes of it, it cannot be denied—and I am sure it will not be denied—by anyone that all sorts of productions are now being permitted in this country (and in some cases they are thrust on us, whether we like them or not), which a few years ago would have been banned in one way or another. I would not stop to quote the letters I have received, but to-day I received one from a lady of seventy-eight, enclosing a circular about sex technique which she had received—and that seemed to me to be optimistic. At any rate, that is the kind of muck that is being distributed far and wide. I will quote Sir Alan Herbert—and no one has done more for freedom in the Arts than he has. In connection withoh! Calcutta!in August last year, Sir Alan Herbert wrote, in the course of an article inThe Times:
My colleagues and I, in 1954, began a worthy struggle for reasonable liberty for honest writers. I am sorry to think that our efforts seem to have ended in a right to represent copulation, voraciously, on the public stage.
That is what Sir Alan wrote inThe Timeslast year.
§ An expert on the films, a gentleman not wholly unfavourable to recent changes, argues that the slogan "Make love, not war" is the message of the majority of young people to-day, and he argues that this is preferable to the reverse. He goes on to refer to an increasingly liberal policy as a matter of actual fact in the censorship of sex on the cinema screen—and he is well qualified to know. Full female frontal nudity, he points out, would not have been passed or accepted by the public even five years ago, and male frontal nudity became acceptable even more recently. There are, my expert friend said, still some prohibitions—and he is referring to prohibitions in the cinema—including what he calls "explicit penetration". I shall have to say one word about that a little later. He then goes on to include masturbation and buggery, but says that he would not be surprised to see increasing freedom eventually in these directions also. May I add that oral sex was always considered obscene, but under the Obscene Publications Act the distributor ofThe Mouthwas acquitted recently, although the brochure advertising it was held to have broken the Post Office law affecting distribution.
§ My Lords, I will not regale the House with the detailed results of my own studies. I hold in my hand a piece of hard "porn" which a headmistress recently found in the hands of a girl of 14. If any noble Lord says that he does not believe in any of this, I hope that, if he is not going to follow me immediately—and I am glad to see that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, is the next speaker—he will just glance at this and say whether in fact he would allow it to be published and circulated. That is the crucial question, although not of course, the only question: are we going to allow this sort of sadistic filth to be published and distributed freely? If there were no laws at all, then clearly there would be nothing to stop it.
Let us try to look at this matter broadly. It is very hard to summarise the state of affairs, but I think perhaps I should do well to refer to an article by Mr. David Holbrook published inThe Timeson March 20. It has the advantage of anything I might actually produce for the
first time this afternoon in that there has been time for people to correct it if they considered it was wrong, and it is not springing anything on the House as a result of a last-minute discovery of my own. I will quote only one passage:
Everywhere young people are being urged towards a sexuality which is destructive of meaning in their lives by powerful forces of education…by these criteria"—
which seem to be accepted at the moment—
for people to simulate masturbation, engage in sadistic titillation and handle one another 's genitals on the public stage is not obscene. For couples to engage in lesbianism and actual copulation on the public stage …was not obscene. For a man actor, dressed as a dog, to make sexual gestures urinate and simulate intercourse with a woman is not obscene.'
He wrote that inThe Times, and so far as I am aware no one has apparently challenged his statement of what is happening at the present time. All this, he points out, although in a recent survey a majority of adults and a majority of young people thought it was a mistake to abolish censorship and thought it wrong to put the sexual act on the stage. Those are the views of Mr. Holbrook, with which I am certainly pleased to he associated.
§ May I now say a few words (and I am afraid it cannot be put very simply or briefly) about the law at the present time—prepared, of course, with the proper advice. The principal legislation from the Home Office point of view is the Obscene Publications Act 1959, amplified by the Act of 1964, carried through by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor. Films (except for films shown in private dwellinghouses) and broadcasting, including T.V., are specifically excluded from the Act. It is an important point that most films and broadcasting, including T.V., are specifically excluded from the Obscene Publications Acts of 1959 and 1964. In addition, the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act 1955 has the effect of banning horror comics, and there are a number of Acts which prohibit indecent exhibitions in public. The control of indecent advertisements—and from my very large post bag I think indecent advertising is causing almost as much concern as anything else—is effected by the Vagrancy Acts of 1824 and 1838, and the Indecent Advertisements Act 1889. The Post Office Act, 1953, Section 11, makes it an offence 645 to send indecent or obscene materials through the mail.
§ The next point is important. Section 42 of the Customs Consolidation Act makes indecent and obscene material prohibited articles, the importation of which is forbidden; in other words, the importation is forbidden not only of articles which are obscene under the 1959 Act, for example, but are also indecent. May I lay great stress on the point that Customs officials, and for that matter, I understand, Post Office officials, are entitled at present to seize material not only if it is obscene but if it is indecent, which is a much easier test than the test of obscenity contained in the Obscene Publications Act 1959.
§ Let me dwell on this distinction for a moment. The 1959 Act defines an obscene article as one which, if taken as a whole, tends to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely to see or read it. Personally—and I speak only for myself throughout this speech—I should think that a single article has hardly ever corrupted anybody; and if it has it would be almost impossible to prove it. I am still more confident that a flow of dirt over a period tends to corrupt the vast majority of those who come under its influence. There may be a few extraordinary cases where actual therapy is affected, but I cannot for a moment accept the view that we ought to leave our therapy to pornographers. Indeed, I go a little wider, and say that pornography itself is too serious a matter to leave to pornographers.
§ To continue with this brief exposition of the law, the Act of 1959 provides a defence of the public good, on the ground that publication is in the interests of science, literature, art or learning or other objects of general concern. It also provides for the admission of expert opinion on the merits of the article. These provisos are not contained in the Customs legislation. I am sorry to keep repeating this, but it is something we have to bear in mind throughout the discussion: Above all, the Customs do not have to try to demonstrate that an article will deprave and corrupt. Indecency is sufficient. The Customs' power, therefore, over imported goods is considerably more far-reaching than the power of the domestic authorities over goods produced in this country. I gather that the decisions of the Customs authorities to seize im- 646 ported pornography have not often been challenged with success, and I am not aware that there is any great criticism of their methods. As regards plays, which have often been discussed in this House, the Theatres Act 1968 controls all public performances. The same test of obscenity is applied as to books and magazines under the 1959 Act and the same difficulties therefore arise.
§ Certain entertainments other than plays, including strip shows, for example, may require licences from the local authority, who may include, if they wish, conditions relating to decency. As regards entertainments and public advertisements —and may I say as regards films, too—the powers and performance of local authorities seem to me to need a much more careful consideration than is possible in these opening remarks. For example, there is a film showing in London now, and I understand it is showing elsewhere, calledThe Language of Love, which displays the full sex act explicitly. A Censorship Board would still place a ban on that kind of thing, and in fact the Board did not give a licence toThe Language of Love;it was refused a licence by the Film Censorship Board but granted one by the G.L.C. So when we are trying to find out who are the people who have allowed all this kind of thing to appear on the screen or eslewhere, we must carry out our inquiry quite fully. It may be we have to blame the Government, the state of the law, the censor, or the G.L.C. or other local authorities. But at any rate, let us try to find who are responsible for this situation in which we find ourselves.
§ Public cinematograph exhibitions are controlled by the licensing procedure created by the Cinematograph Acts 1909 and 1952. The local authority has power to impose conditions on the categories of films shown and (this is the kind of official way of stating it) by this means applies the certificate procedure of the British Board of Film Censors. I have just given an example where the local authority gave permission for a film to be shown which did not receive the licence of the Film Censor.
§ We must look at the film censorship, though not with any kind of personal animus at all. This Film Censorship Board is a non-statutory organisation under the joint control of the President (an honoured Member of this House) and 647 the Secretary. These two eminent gentlemen are appointed by the film industry under a complicated procedure in which the crucial part is played by the Association of Cinematograph Manufacturers. My friends in the industry assure me that this Association, of the cinematograph manufacturers, has no direct commercial interest in censorship. I must think over that contention. At any rate, that is how they see it. The point is that it is set up by the industry, or part of it.
§ It will be noticed that in this list of Statutes, with regard to which the Home Office has kindly supplied me with the facts—the opinions, of course, are entirely mine—there is no reference to any statutory control of television; and yet a large proportion of those who have written to me supporting this Motion refer to television as an immediate source of their disquiet. In fact the Television Authority are instructed under Clause 3(1) of the Act to satisfy themselves that nothing is included in the programmes which offends against good taste or decency, or is likely to be offensive to public feeling. That is the statutory requirement.
§ The B.B.C., on the other hand, would appear to be under no statutory control at all. But when that is pointed out to them they reply that they have given assurances—and this is, of course, entirely so—to the Postmaster General that so far as possible their programmes shall not offend against good taste or decency, or be likely to encourage crime or disorder or be offensive to public feeling: so that the B.B.C. would say that their assurances place them under the same kind of obligation as is imposed on Independent Television by their governing Act. Your Lordships will appreciate that I am now speaking after very full and careful inquiries.
§ It may be that certain residual powers remain to bring certain types of proceedings outside the Statutes. But whatever the ultimate powers of the Director of Public Prosecutions to interfere with criminal obscenity in films and television, it is understood to-day that, in practice, the television and the film trade in regard to public showings are left to be their own censors.
§ The most objectionable films to-day—though perhaps not many of us here, I 648 hope not too many of us, have seen them—are those shown in so-called clubs. Some of the films shown in public are bad enough, as I have seen for myself, but the ones shown in clubs are understood to be a good deal worse. They are not submitted for censorship, and they do not normally fall within the penal provisions of the Act. At the moment the film clubs are free to make the worst possible use of the best of all possible worlds. Films still dirtier, if possible, are now smuggled into this country and shown in private houses; and here the position is a little complicated again. Strictly speaking, films shown in private houses are subject to the Obscene Publications Act where they are not open to the public, but, in practice, the police appear to have little chance of catching up with them. My Lords, that sets out the law, which I think you will see is pretty complicated at the present time and cannot bring much satisfaction to anybody except the pornographers.
§ I am afraid it will be a little while before I close, but as I approach the latter part of my remarks may I come to a provisional programme of action? Even before I do that, there is one point which I should like to mention. It may be said that if you have any categories or rules borderline cases are bound to arise; but that is inevitable if we are to have any restrictions at all. I cannot think that many noble Lords—and I hope we shall not hear this from any noble Lord—want to go the whole hog and have absolutely no restrictions, with every sort of perversion, including bestiality, not just simulated but performed "for real" in public, I hope that any noble Lord who points out difficulties in applying any form of control will tell us frankly whether he is ready to go the whole hog and simplify the problem, because one way of simplifying it is not to have any restrictions. Then you can have every sort of atrocity performed in public, and quite legally.
As regards borderline cases, which must exist if we are have any standards at all, I cannot refrain from quoting some wise words from Mr. Alexander Walker, the film critic of theEvening Standard, who cannot be accused of antiquity:
Pornographers are not social benefactors providing a 'cathartic wallow'. Those who cry, 'All porn to the people' are really saying, 'All porn to the entrepreneur'. The
entrepreneurs I know are entirely cynical, though sometimes most entertaining chaps, who will be laughing inordinately at the old canard that there's no telling art from pornography. They can tell all right, and they rarely make mistakes.
§ I will come to some possible lines of progress. The list I am offering is simply a minimum; it is neither exclusive nor dogmatic, and I hope it will be amended to-day and later. I am ready to describe myself as a puritan, and, left to myself, I might be rather stricter than a national consensus made possible. If I seem to concentrate on films, I do so because they illustrate the general problem and I suppose there is no sphere where things have changed and decayed more rapidly in the last few years than in the case of films. As a start, we should bring our minds to bear on the "stills" outside cinemas, which can be seen by young children passing by.
I have read with the greatest interest and considerable encouragement the circular which has just been issued by the Home Secretary to local authorities. The Home Secretary draws the attention of local authorities to recent criticism of current trends in film advertising and to complaints that many advertisements are indecent or offensive. The Home Secretary says:
Where the advertisements in question appear in the Press or displayed elsewhere than en the premises of a cinema licensed for public cinematograph exhibitions, the matter falls to be dealt with by the general law, and the responsibility for enforcement lies with the police.
Then he continues, and this is the point in his circular:
Where the advertising material is displayed on premises licensed for public cinematograph exhibitions, the power conferred on licensing authorities … enables the authority to attach conditions to the licence, giving it power to control any advertising or similar material displayed on the premises.
The Home Secretary goes on, gently but, I hope, firmly, to suggest that licensing authorities will wish to consider whether they are making adequate use of their powers to restrict material which has been giving offence. More power to the elbow of the Home Secretary! It may be that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, will be able to spell out this warning even more clearly when he replies.
§ Clearly, any of us who are concerned must give a high priority to the whole question of cinema clubs which to-day are 650 left to go their own very unsweet way. The so-called membership of these clubs appears to be usually phoney. It should not be difficult, but it is certainly urgent, to clean them up. In the circular just quoted front the Home Secretary, the local authorities are informed that he is considering separately what action is necessary to deal with cinema clubs. I am not clear from the circular whether that means that he is simply considering the advertisements of cinema clubs, or whether he is considering the whole question of cinema clubs; I hope it is the latter. May we hear something to-day from the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, about cinema clubs?
§ More widely, I submit that the whole machinery for controlling films in general is quite indefensible. No one would think of dreaming it up now, but we are at the moment stuck with it. The exclusion of films from the Obscene Publications Act means, in effect, that the job is left to the Film Censorship Board. The Film Censor is appointed by the trade, so there is, in effect, no public control at all over films. The law of the land is virtually shut out and nothing takes its place from the point of view of the general public. I certainly make no criticism of the Film Censor himself, whom I have highly regarded since he was kind to me at our preparatory school, but I say that no one man should be placed in such a position, even with the help of his President. We cannot look to any one man, himself the servant of the film industry or part of it, to act in place of the law of the land. A minimum step, therefore, is to bring the films firmly under the Obscene Publications Act, and to review the whole set-up of the Film Censorship Board.
§ The question of whether the Obscene Publications Act should be extended to cover television and broadcasting generally could be, and should be, looked at at the same time. As regards the theatre, the present law, as already mentioned, applies the same test of obscenity as the Obscene Publications Act and is subject to the same weakness. If that Act is revised, the law affecting the theatre must clearly be revised at the same time.
But the House will not be surprised to hear from what I have said earlier that I am far from favourable towards
the Obscene Publications Act 1959, supplemented by the Act of 1964. No one who is aware of the views of the gifted Queen's Counsel, Mr. John Mortimer, will suppose him to be afflicted by the same kind of puritanism as myself, which makes me feel that I can quote him with confidence. In a forword toBooks in the Dockby my friend Mr. C. H. Rolfe, published in 1969, Mr. Mortimer had this to say:
For an obscenity trial is, in fact, nothing less than a clash between two societies, both of which are adopting more or less false attitudes imposed by an illogical law.
He criticises the position of the lawyers and politicians, and continues:
The writer in an obscenity trial must keep it quite secret that he merely wants to express himself totally, and quite rightly doesn't give a damn about the Public Good.
Then he continues:
So, under the smokescreen"—
these are his words, the words of Mr. Mortimer, the liberal-minded Q.C.—
provided by Mr. Roy Jenkins's well-intentioned and totally confusing piece of legislation known as the Obscene Publications Act 1959, the two sides advance stealthily to battle.
So says Mr. Mortimer, Q.C. With the law in such a mess it is not surprising that the pornographers have got away with it increasingly during the last few years. Those are my words, not those of Mr. Mortimer.
§ My Lords, I promised not to be dogmatic at this stage as to ways and means. It is tempting to suggest that the law regarding home-produced books should be adjusted to conform with the Customs law, under which it is sufficient to satisfy the court that indecency is involved, and the almost impossible requirement of demonstrating that the particular article is likely to corrupt those who come across it would not be imposed. I repeat, I am not favouring that dogmatically; but this is part of the kind of issue which must be looked at thoroughly in any revision of the law.
§ A topic of the first importance which I have not dealt with, though I hope others will (and I shall be surprised if they do not) is the whole vital issue of sex education. Although this has rather "blown" itself into the news in the last few days I do not want to con- 652 centrate too much on it in my opening remarks. They were drawn up to cope with a wider point of view. It would be as foolish to range oneself dogmatically against sex education, as to ignore the clever and lucrative use of the phrase "sex education" to cover down right pornography in magazines, and very dubious material in films. I recently came across one film intended for young children which you have all been reading about in the last few days. I will not pursue the incidents in the film, let alone the conduct of anybody who participated. I would only make it plain to the House that it was positively asserted in the commentary that sexual intercourse between teenagers, that is children over 11, is perfectly in order. I refuse to believe that teachers and parents in this country are going to allow that kind of medicine, such a depraving medicine, to be administered in the schools of Britain.
§ May I, before leaving sex education, put four questions to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, of which I gave him notice yesterday. I do not know whether he has had time to look into them. They are: (1) Can a head teacher decide off his own bat whether a film of this kind is to be shown, without anybody else being able to stop him? Even if the vast majority of teachers rejected this totally, could a few misguided cranks in the teaching profession insist on showing it? (2) Is it a fact that no parent is allowed to withdraw his or her child from seeing a film, however much that parent objects to it? (3) Would I be right in thinking that films of this character are neither subject to censorship, nor to the Obscenity Acts? (4) Are the Government satisfied that they possess sufficient powers to deal with this situation? The noble Viscount has only had 24 hours to consider those questions, but I hope he will be able to help us before the afternoon closes.
§ One aspect among many, which I have not touched on is the direct effect of pornography on the level of art. There are others here who are better qualified to speak on this subject than I am. We all know that bad money drives out good. Some of us know how impossible it is to be amusing at a public dinner if the preceding speaker has told a string 653 of dirty stories. Others will speak with more authority, not about that last topic but about pornography and art.
§ As a publisher, and one how has written a few books myself, I see not only a moral, but a grave aesthetic menace if pornography is allowed to go forward unchecked. I am not going to press the Government to give a firm "Yes" or "No" to anything which I am submitting this afternoon. Naturally, the more sympathetic they are, the better. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, made it plain, in a recent notable speech in this House that he is much concerned about certain developments in this area and is considering how the influence of the Government could be used to correct them. Naturally, I hope that he will be able to go further and wider to-day. Naturally, I should be delighted if the Government can see their way to set up a far-reaching inquiry of their own. I must not expect a pronouncement of that kind this afternoon, though it would be immensely welcome.
§ The Government will not be affronted, I feel sure, if I inform them and the House that a number of us have made plans for an unofficial inquiry of our own, following this debate. Those who believe that pornography must at all costs be tackled, will agree that a more systematic policy for doing so must be evolved than could possibly be brought down and spelt out here to-day by an opening speaker, or could have been worked out by the end of the debate.
§ What none of us, I submit, has a right to do is to shield behind public opinion, and to talk as though public opinion were a force of nature which was no responsibility of ours. Public opinion, in the last resort, is what we make it. We are entitled, if we wish—and I am afraid I do wish—to criticise those who control the mass media and other forms of expression for failing to accept their full share of responsibility for the public opinion of the time. But we have no right whatever to find in their failure, real or alleged, an alibi for our own inertia, or fear of being laughed at. To take one personal incident, Mrs. Whitehouse, one woman starting from scratch with nothing on her side, has shown what can be accomplished if you are not frightened of ridicule and really believe in your cause.654
§ Clearly, in the end, there must be a majority in favour of whatever is proposed. Whether such a majority exists in Britain at the present time is an unreal question, and must remain so until the public are faced with a coherent programme. Nothing would be more pointless than to send people round asking the public a lot of questions without submitting something concrete and coherent for them to judge. I have little doubt in my own mind—and certainly those who have written to me have no doubt—that the majority potentially exists in this country for a strong assault on pornography. It is up to those who believe in this cause to throw the same ardour into it as has brought so many social causes to triumph in this country with far less moral support than opposition to pornography.
There are those high-minded, distinguished men, some of them very good friends of mine, absorbed in other forms of public service who are trying to avert their eyes from this issue. They hope that it will run away. They persuade themselves that present tendencies, which they dislike, will correct themselves without any effort of theirs. My Lords, may I say with great respect that I hope they will ask themselves whether that is worthy. I see no prospect of this issue running away. In this day, at this very time, we who are playing a part and preen ourselves on having an influence on public life, carry the responsibility for making matters better or letting them become worse. To all of us, young or old, is given only a limited span of active life. To quote some famous words from the Bible:
We must work while it is day; the night cometh when no man can work".
My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ THE PAYMASTER GENERAL (VISCOUNT ECCLES)
My Lords, the Government are grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and we admire his courage in raising the menace of pornography—a subject from which, as he himself said, many of us would like to run away. The whole topic is very hard to place with accuracy. Who among us is not baffled, even dismayed, at the contradictions of the last 25 years? So much has been done to improve our society and yet, in many ways, we are behaving worse. Public 655 education, the social services and the distribution of increasing wealth have all been advanced as never before. We have given generous help to emerging nations in Asia and Africa. How disappointing that, at the same time, our society has developed weaknesses and faults which, taken together, have diminished the enterprise and now threaten the growth of the whole.
We should not consider the spread of pornography as an isolated phenomenon of mysterious origin. We ought to see it as part of the pattern of the last decade. We are not dealing with a new fashion in entertainment, like bingo. Here is one striking illustration of a major change in the moral climate of Great Britain. Living ourselves in the middle of this change, we cannot apprehend its implications at all clearly. This debate, therefore, should be very useful, because your Lordships can take a calm and experienced view of a subject overlaid with emotions and prejudices—much calmer, I think, than if we had to look for votes. My own thoughts have been clarified and strengthened by the speech of the noble Earl, which has set us all a high standard to follow.
May I refer for a moment to the four questions about films in school? I find that the precise legal position is extremely complicated so, with the noble Earl's consent, I shall write him a long letter on that aspect of the matter. But of course the Secretary of State has no control over the curriculum. If there is a control it rests between local education authorities and sometimes, the managers or governors of a school, and the head teacher. Equally, parents have no statutory right to withdraw their children, except from religious instruction. This afternoon, in another place, a debate is beginning on education, in which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is going to refer to Dr. Cole's film. which I am sure is the film which the noble Earl had in mind. So your Lordships will not expect me to anticipate what Mrs. Thatcher is going to say.
Pornography is the ugly child of the permissive society, of which the rapid rise was predictable. All industrialized nations are now reacting to a technological revolution that has failed to match the growing power of the machines 656 with constructive outlets for human energies. When a community like ours loses the secret of healthy growth, it is sure to demonstrate its distress in various ways. Consider how easily the British, of all sensible people, are now being flouted, held-up and hi-jacked by individuals and tiny groups who are not afraid to use force. The very size and interdependence of modern organisations—the motor car industry, for example—make it more difficult and much more expensive than ever before in history to resist the guerrilla warfare of the militants. Hi-jacking is now a characteristic operation of the 1970s. The pilot is forced at pistol-point to take his passengers to a place where they did not want to go, and the passengers are cowed into allowing it to happen. Kidnapping has begun here; universities are disrupted by quite small numbers of their students; many thousands of work-people go out on strike against their better judgment; security guards are shot-up in daylight; and sections of the arts are polluted by a few pornographers.
All these things happen at once because of their common origin. We can see, therefore, that to explore every kind of personal sensation is one way to participate in a general trend towards protest against the isolation of the individual and the emptiness of the age. In this sense the spread of pornography is natural. But it is also nasty, and we shall not stop it effectively unless we remove the causes of its popularity. It is not primarily the law which needs to be changed, but certain attitudes of mind that spring from the whole social, economic and political situation. The exploiters of the permissive society are, of course, bullies. Their game is to keep the passengers quiet while they force the pilot to take the aircraft to wherever they have an itch to go. These are the tactics of the pornographers. They are aided by those who insist that, as it cannot be proved that pornography has done, or will do, harm to any particular person, no one has any right to stop it.
One must expect abuse—I have had it myself—if one raises the question whether easy access to certain kinds of books, pictures, plays and films is likely to throw a significant number of people—especially young people—off their 657 balance and make it harder for them to live reasonable, constructive and unselfish lives. Your Lordships will recognise this argument against doing anything to stem the flood of pornography. It is exactly the same that is used against warning the public that cigarette-smoking may lead to lung does not follow that we should refuse-shall never know whether a particular smoker will contract the disease, but it cancer. We to listen to the best medical authorities, such as the noble Lord, Lord Platt—who I am glad to see is to speak in this debate—who recently addressed the House on this subject. He marshalled the evidence against cigarette-smoking and we should do the same against pornography.
Our evidence cannot be so scientific, since we are dealing not with measurable phenomena, but with value-judgments and morals. Nevertheless, the belief that some thoughts are evil, that some thoughts can poison the mind and corrupt the character, has been central to the teaching of the world's greatest religions and philosophies. Can it really make sense to throw away the wisdom of the ages just because modern science can show us more clearly the causes of sexual deviations and of the urge to violence? Psychoanalysis has helped to remove the pruderies and hypocrisies that mutilated sex in the 19th century. Chemistry, physics and biology have made much plain that was hidden before. We are all glad of that, but no branch of science can teal us how to behave in a particular situation. Justice and mercy never will be concocted in a test tube or measured in mathematical terms. We certainly know more than our fathers, but we easily do worse. This is because scientific knowlege is not lost but always accumulates, whereas each child has to start again and make his or her own discoveries about the difference between good and evil.
What is the influence of pornography in this continually renewed struggle to behave well? Some people will be immune to images of lust and violence, just as others are immune to cigarette-smoking. As the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack recently told us in his felicitous terms (mine are not quite the same), society has always been composed of a tiny handful of saints, a rather larger handful of villains and 658 nine out of ten in the middle who, with a bit of luck and good friends, manage to behave well most of the time. Now history demonstrates that the example of the saints and the villains was crucial to how the majority made out. Whom, then, should we nominate as our patron saint for this debate? Obviously, St. Anthony is our man. He figures in the calendar simply because he resisted the great pornographer, with his forked tail. For over 1,500 years St. Anthony has been acclaimed and celebrated. But, my Lords, if we were now suddenly to whisk his halo away a great many people would be shocked and would feel that they had been deprived of a signpost they could not easily do without.
Saints and villains apart, we are concerned with the general run of mankind. They often act in one way rather than in another because of what they have seen and read. The noble Lord, Lord Snow, in our debate on the mass media, made a notable speech in which he pointed out that very large sums of money were spent on advertising precisely because salesmen know that pictures make customers. In this intensely professional business the advertisers have learned certain rules and techniques. One is that repetition pays off. The customer is captured if he sees or hears over and over again that Guinness or a pint of milk is good for him. Why should it be any different if he sees and hears over and over again that sex has nothing to do with love and that violence is a normal way of getting what you want? Those who say that everybody soon tires of pornography have a lot to explain. They may know very little about mass advertising, or they may know a great deal and want to persuade the rest of us to keep quiet while the dirty work is done.
My Lords, in the Middle Ages, when hardly anyone could read or write, the Christian clergy relied on the power of visual images. On entering a church the two dominating images—the Madonna and Child and the Crucifixion—analysed and summed up for the illiterate congregation the very best and the very worst that men can do to each other. But the Church did not leave the laity to draw their own conclusions about the meaning of the images. The cruelty of the Passion and the death of martyrs were portrayed not to entertain but to instruct. 659 Indeed, the instruction was the declared purpose of the architecture, the paintings and the sculpture.
In a significant sense the twentieth century resembles the twelfth century. Once again the general run of mankind are absorbing a large part of their experience through visual images. In this country, 19 million television sets and I do not know how many radios and transistor sets are switched on for hours every day. It is too early to know what these moving pictures and organised noise are doing to us. But there is a world of difference between representations of, let us say, cruelty offered for entertainment, with no instructions given, no moral drawn, and the use to which the Church put art in the Middle Ages. In those days the quality of art was admired because it drove home the lesson. In our times we have completely changed the emphasis. Now the subject matter is of no importance: only the quality counts.
Recently I heard this aesthetic dogma called in aid to justify pornography. When I was having a "set-to" with some students, one of them, thinking to clinch the argument, said, "Pornography is just another art form. The subject is not relevant. All that matters is that the picture should be the work of a genuine artist." Can we doubt, my Lords, that when the Devil tempted St. Anthony the Devil was a pretty good artist? However, be that as it may, what this student was saying makes nonsense of a world devoted to reality. Every day we have to act, as well as to feel; and if we are concerned only with the manner in which things are done, and not with their content and meaning, we shall lose the power to tell the difference between good and evil. Conscience will be replaced by some kind of aesthetic taste.
My Lords, I have gone into that in some detail because it is a change of this nature in moral standards which sets the stage for pornography. If one experience can be distinguished from another only by the sensation which it arouses, then we might as well try everything, however heartless, disgusting and cruel the action might be, however much it outraged our neighbours or damaged our own family life. So if we dislike pornography we must attack these ideas 660 which alone give it scope to flourish. In short, we shall reduce the sale of dirty books, pictures, films and plays not by showing that they are bad art but because, regardless of time and place, they advertise behaviour which mocks at love and tenderness and at the respect for other people. But then it will be asked: how do you know that love and respect for others are better than their opposites? And, if you really do believe this, how do you keep these values alive in our drifting generation? My Lords, science cannot answer questions like these, and For that very reason the pornographers are quick to declare that these questions should not be asked at all.
This is the heart of the matter. Either we believe that there are values and virtues like kindness and honesty, and institutions like the family, good and true in themselves, and essential if our society is to be held together, or we take our stand on the proposition that everything is permissible because no-one can tell in advance whether any experience would do a man more harm than good. Those are irreconcilable attitudes to life. When we as politicians decide between them, a minor and a major consideration should weigh with us. In the first place, we must pay attention to what people have up to now held to be the difference between right and wrong. It is faintly possible that in time the inhabitants of Westminster might get used to copulating in the street like dogs or pigeons; but, my Lords, not tomorrow morning. Judged, therefore, by its effect on holding together the community in which we are now living, it would be disastrous to let the permissive society go to any lengths. We should demoralise ourselves as surely as contact with European manners and Scotch whisky demoralised certain South Sea Islanders.
Your Lordships would not expect me to argue the case against pornography solely from the present state of society. Much needs to be changed. I am sure that democracies will disappear if they cannot find peaceful ways to change in response to new knowledge and new leadership. But if the methods of change are not to be dictated by the hijackers we must hold on to certain basic values, and of these I would have thought that serious attention to the needs of others was the foremost. The 661 reality of the human condition is that we must live in a community of which the vigour, spirit and cohesion can be sustained only by both positive action and also well-understood restraint. Pornography denies this concept of the human condition. It flourishes most when society is falling apart. In place of a concern for others it offers us a diet of nightmares. It holds that legal restraints upon the gratification of desire are the contemptible vestiges of a reactionary past. So too is a man's conscience which puts him on notice that there is a difference between good and evil. If we follow the advice of the pornographers what shall we become? I am reminded that Sir Richard Burton, who knew a lot about pornography, said:Conscience was born when man shed his fur, his tail and his pointed ears ".The pornographers would like us to grow again our fur, tail and pointed ears, and they are not without some successes to their credit.
My noble friend Lord Windlesham will give the House the views of the Home Office on the law relating to the subject we are discussing; and he will also refer in particular to the point about the cinema clubs raised by the noble Earl. I am sure we all welcome the noble Earl's private inquiry. His advice and that of his friends will be awaited with much interest. But I wonder—and here I think I am fortunate to have the noble Earl with me—whether, before an official inquiry were held, we should do more to arouse public opinion on the social and moral issues at stake?
Our situation to-day may be exceptional because the pendulum has swung so violently towards total permissiveness. Will it return to centre of its own accord? This really is the great question. I do not think so, because hijacking is now so easy in our apathetic and vulnerable society. On the other hand, I should be sorry if those who think as the noble Earl and I do did not try much harder to arouse the conscience of the public before they asked us to resort to new forms of statutory censorship. It may be that they would be surprised by the number of allies they would find. The noble Earl has given us one astonishing example from his own post bag. What a difference it would make if those who campaign so vigorously against in- 662 humanity overseas—in South Africa, for instance, 6,000 miles away—were to campaign with equal vigour against the inhuman pornography on their doorstep! For example, I would welcome very much a lecture like the one that was given by Cardinal Heenan at the London School of Economics last winter on the moral situation in 1970. There is more than a trace of his wise, compassionate and moving words in the remarks that have offered to your Lordships this afternoon.
I believe that this debate will help to defeat an evil which offends all men and women of good conscience. How can one describe a good conscience? I have always admired some words of that most enchanting of Anglican divines, Jeremy Taylor. Speaking of the thoughts and actions which his congregation should avoid, he said:These things are against a man's conscience—that is against his reason and his rest".My Lords, pornography is against our reason and against our peace of mind.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT NORWICH
My Lords, whatever your Lordships may think about pornography, those of us who live in London find ourselves beset by it every day of our lives. Therefore we must all be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for having raised the matter this afternoon. This morning I read inThe Timesabout Lord Longford's own personal Calvary through Soho; through the world of Scandinavian sex magazines and striptease. I, too, have stood breast high—if your Lordships will forgive the expression—"amid the alien porn"; and I know just how he felt. But, while absolutely agreeing with him that the time has come for some sort of action to be taken, I do not agree with him about the kind of action that should be taken; because the reasons for my concern, very real as it is, are, I think, slightly different from his.
Let me explain—or, rather, let me leave the explanation to, of all people, the late Marilyn Monroe. When she arrived at London Airport about fifteen years ago she was besieged by gentlemen of the Press. One asked her what she thought about sex; to which she replied, after a pause for thought, that she thought 663 that sex was here to stay. My Lords, it is. And if sex is here to stay, so too are the concomitants of sex; principally prostitution and pornography. That being the case, it seems to me that the one thing we should not try to do is ban pornography as such, for the very simple reason that no ban could ever be enforced. In my view, no law that is incapable of enforcement can be anything but a bad law; prohibition in America surely taught us that, if nothing else. Driving the thing underground would create a black market and grossly inflate the prices of the commodities concerned, thus enabling the pornographers to retire a good deal earlier than they otherwise might.
There is another very good reason, I think, why pornography should not be banned. It is that it is almost impossible to define certain aspects of it, certain manifestations. Magazines containing what are palpably filthy pictures are easy to define. It is when you get into the sphere of the printed book that the problem becomes a good deal harder. As we all know, a decision whether any book is or is not pornographic is purely subjective. One magistrate may condemn; the next may acquit. One man's art is another man's pornography. Yesterday's obscenity is to-morrow's required reading in secondary schools. Also, I think that there is a quite important consideration which is sometimes forgotten and which concerns the terms of sale. Yesterday I read an article on this subject in which it was pointed out that a marriage guidance manual might be extremely praiseworthy and helpful if sold in the right quarters, but if advertised in a children's comic would be pornographic.
Also, what standards are we to apply? Are we to apply the same old standard of that which tends to deprave or corrupt? If so, who decides? I myself have grave doubts, as the noble Earl has up to a point, about the power of any individual work of pornography to deprave and corrupt anyone. I do not believe it does. Perhaps (though even here there is also doubt), it may on occasion deprave or corrupt children. Certainly I think that children should be protected from it; though when a short while ago I did my round of the book- 664 shops, there was not a child to be seen for miles around and the average age of the clients whom I saw was certainly a good deal nearer 60 than 50.
Incidentally, I might mention at this point—and I am rather surprised it has not been mentioned so far—the experience in Denmark, where recently all the flood gates were opened. It was said—I know not all your Lordships would agree, and I am not certain that I thoroughly accept the evidence myself—by those responsible for this law that the incidence of sex crimes had immediately fallen by some remarkable percentage, between 20 and 25 per cent. Even if that was not true—and probably it is too early to establish it for sure—what was certain was that the sales of pornographic literature did not go up but plummeted down after the first two or three months.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, is the noble Viscount referring to books? What he is saying now is certainly not true of magazines.
§ VISCOUNT NORWICH
My Lords, with great respect, I can only quote an article, of which, alas! I have not kept a copy, which I read about three or four months ago in theSunday Timesor possibly theObserver, saying that the immediate decline in the sales in Denmark had been bearable by the publishers of those magazines only because it had been counterweighed by the enormous increase in sales overseas, particularly in this country. I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Earl chapter and verse for that. At any rate, it would seem to me not particularly surprising, because there is a relatively restricted number of variations that can be played on this theme and once those variations have been played, what does one do for an encore?
If we leave that aspect aside, I entirely agree with the noble Earl that something should be done, if not to prohibit pornography, at least to protect people from it. It seems to me that two classes of people should above all be protected: first of all, children; and, secondly, even more important and more numerous, all those who do not want it and who have it rammed down their throats every day of their lives. It seems to me that here we should probably be better advised to 665 base ourselves not so much on that difficult, dicey, treacherous path of morality, but on æsthetics, because whatever we may say, whatever we may doubt, whatever we may argue about pornography, there can be absolutely no question that it is ugly, that it is brutal—and is boring.
That being the case, I should like to see—though not a lawyer, I cannot feel that it would be difficult in the long term to arrange—all the pornographers, in the largest sense of the word (by which I include not only bookshops, but films, the strip-tease clubs and all that world), to be grouped together. They are fairly well grouped together now, but I should like to see them concentrated in one or possibly two back streets, which would be given over entirely to that and to nothing else at all; streets which would be forbidden to children, where window displays would be forbidden and these establishments allowed to saying nothing but, in letters as large as they like, "pornography", "strip-tease", "blue films" or whatever they have got. This would enable those who want that sort of thing to know where to go and get it and all the rest of us to be spared.
Having done that—and I suspect that it could possibly be done by a system of licensing or controlling leases, because it should not be beyond the powers of the authorities to arrange something—we can then settle down to what to me is a far more important aspect of the whole affair, which is the pornographic pollution of the general environment. Here there are two principal non-patrials in the woodpile. The first, beyond any question, is the film industry. That, I think, would not be difficult to deal with. It would probably be merely a question of persuading the giants of the film industry to exert slightly stronger control over their own advertising. Secondly, and more important, more persuasive and in my view infinitely more shocking, there is the arch pornographer of all—though they are not going to like my saying so—London Transport. I have been more horrified by the London Transport advertisements than by anything I have seen outside the cinema.
There are two advertisements at present in Piccadilly Circus tube station, to be seen on the way up the escalators, both for male underwear, one for 666 Meridian underwear and one for Morley underwear, which have shocked me considerably, almost as much as I was shocked about six weeks ago by another advertisement. It has stopped now, and I cannot remember what it advertised, but it was all along the side of every single London bus, consisting of a picture of a dozen small children sitting on their potties all the way along. This seemed to me the worst of all, because it was levelled at the worst sort of reaction. It tried to be cute, tried to make us say, "Oh, how sweet!" It was utterly, utterly nauseating. I cannot see for the life of me why London Transport should not have a minor fine art commission; why they cannot set up some little committee of their own to vet advertising which they do so much to publicise. If they were to do that and the film companies were to do the same, I think we should be breathing a far purer air.
Basically, I think that pornography is simply another form of atmospheric pollution, neither more nor less. The assault of public display on our eyes is exactly the same as the assault of smoke and noxious fumes on our lungs, and I think that we have a right to breathe as pure air as we possibly can. I look on pornography in exactly the same way as on smoking. Possibiy it is slightly less harmful but basically it is the same sort of manifestation. Those who have to have it and those who need it, I suppose, had better have it, but I do not see why they want to louse up the atmosphere for the rest of us who do not want it. Let us therefore look at pornography in that light, as an atmospheric pollution. Let us keep it in spectrum; let us keep it in proportion and let us keep it in its place.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, I have been asked to speak from this Box, but I make it clear that I cannot in any sense be offering the collective view of my colleagues on this subject. I believe, however, that I shall be expressing their view when I say, as did those who spoke before me, how specially indebted we are to my noble friend Lord Longford for raising this matter. I say "specially" because anyone who takes the initiative on this issue runs a risk of being criticised as a crank or as being in some sense abnormal. If I may say so, I think we are also indebted to the deeply-considered 667 and profoundly felt speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles; and if the standard of the discussion proceeds along the level set by those who have spoken before me then much of worth may come out of it.
I have tried to recall the attitude of those in my pre-war Left Wing generation who set out to establish what we thought were valid standards for society. We believed as passionately as any latter-day liberal in the freedom of the individual. In the days of Hitler and Mussolini the faith in freedom was a very meaningful conception, and when at last the time came we, with those of other political Parties, were prepared to fight for that faith. We were against what we considered to be harmful taboos and hypocritical codes of conduct. We applauded Shaw when he cut through established nonsense; we worshipped the early reasoning of Wells and Russell: we thought that Havelock Ellis brought fresh winds of common sense to matters of sex and that D. H. Lawrence combined absolute honesty with literary skill.
I cannot believe that we were wrong in what we said and worked for, but I believe that we were part of a movement which has gone too fast and, already, too far. We wanted a world without poverty, violence and hideous warfare. We wanted to build up an environment in which human relations would be finer and kinder and nobler in the best sense of that word. We thought that as self-discipline strengthened and the dignity of man was asserted, legal restraints would become unnecessary. It was, I think, in line with that reasoning that many of us voted for the ending of censorship on the stage. What began as an effort to liberate the finer instincts of human beings has brought us to the point at which, as A. P. Herbert put it in the article inThe Timeswhich has already been quoted by my noble friend—an article which I thought was one of infinite sadness—the actors can dangle their private parts over the footlights".What I find difficult to understand on the part of certain of my political friends with whose scale of values I usually agree is that they seem to swallow everything that they usually say against the profit motive if it is pornography that is 668 being sold. This commodity they appear to accept in the sacred name of individual liberty. But when it is a case of jerrybuilding, adulterated food or shoddy workmanship generally, they will attack the profit motive unsparingly; when it is shoddy art and when sex is involved, they hold it to be illiberal to protest. They react violently at the idea of new controls, although control and regulation in other areas of human behaviour they will readily accept as being for the good of society. Their criticism of any alleged attack on liberty is usually the challenge, "Do you want censorship?", or, as the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, put it, "Where do you draw the line?"
Drawing the line, as Lord Norwich said, is always a difficult operation and can never be entirely satisfactory. But because I accept that a fresh demarcation of what should and should not be tolerated is a matter for careful, serious and sincere discussion, I am still entitled to say, with some certainty, that certain things should not be said, shown or done in public. I can still assert with confidence that there is absolutely no evidence that if society takes off all restrictions and controls in this area, there are not individual members of that society who will not exploit the weakness in the rest of us.
In a recent speech at Edinburgh, the Director-General of the B.B.C., in the course of an eminently rational consideration of what society should tolerate in these matters, quoted Edmund Burke:The dignity of restraint, it is impossible in any case to settle precisely, but it ought to be the constant aim of every wise public counsel to find out by cautious experiment and rational, cool endeavour with how little and not how much of this restraint the community can subsist.I should have gone along with that without any qualification if we were considering the situation of ten years ago, or even three or four years ago; but I do not believe that the phenomenon we are now confronting is the intended result of wise public counsel or cautious experiment. I believe that Western society has let its guard down too quickly and an animal appetite is growing upon what it feeds. It is encouraged, reluctantly in some cases and eagerly in others, by those who seek to make financial profit by the process. It may be that in some cases there is no viciousness and certainly no 669 intended viciousness as to what is put before us, but it all affects the environment just the same.
I learn that in the hard-pressed world of Fleet Street the Sun has increased its circulation. The general belief is that the increase results from pandering to the lowest common denominator in human beings. I do not now include the Sun among my morning newspapers, but I still see the Daily Mirror, and I have noticed recently that they have displayed a wholehearted devotion to hot pants. In the last edition they were having to maintain an interest in these garments by putting pill pockets in the rear and the imprint of male hands. I am open to correction, and no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, will be speaking, but I do not believe that there was anything other than the need to compete with Mr. Murdoch that prompted the Mirror to photograph so many female backsides.
This necessity to keep up with a growing appetite and to compete with others has led to a more vicious manifestation of pornography in other media. I do not want to enlarge on this unduly, except to say that sometimes it is asked, "What are you worrying about?". On the films—and I agree with Lord Norwich that the films probably are the worst area in the media to which we are offering criticism—as my noble friend Lord Longford said, there was simulated copulation. That is no longer enough: actuality now is needed. In cinemas in New York, I am advised by those professionally concerned, copulation between human beings is not even enough but animals have to take part in the act as well. One film of which I was given details and which is showing in those countries where they have dispensed with censorship, and which has been submitted for licence here, indulges in such scenes that my noble friends advised me that I ought not to give the details here. But I cannot believe that there is anyone in this House who would try to make out a case that this kind of stuff which is being shown in films to-day has anything at all to do with art. There are some who would say, however: What harm does it do? One answer I would give is that given by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles: We do not know what harm it is doing. We shall not know until some further passage of time.
670 I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, who said that it is not the young people but the older people who go around the bookshops in Soho. I do not know about that, but I was advised the other day that in the audience of the film in which the noble Viscount showed an interest recently—namely, Flesh—they were all young people, and on the one evening there was only one (as it was put to me) middle-aged man in a dirty raincoat there. One can draw any conclusions that one likes from these figures, but the point I put to those who gave me that description was this: how many middle-aged men in dirty raincoats are there going to be in twenty or thirty years' time if this is the kind of thing that attracts them now?
§ VISCOUNT NORWICH
My Lords, I want to make one brief point on what the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said when he drew a comparison with the film Flesh. The film Flesh was decided to be not obscene and is now in fact on show in its uncut version with an "X" Certificate from the British Board of Film Censors in Chelsea. It cannot, therefore, be compared with the unquestionably pornographic material which is being dispensed and sold in bookshops.
§ LORD BESWICK
It is a question of degree. A year ago that film would have stood absolutely no chance of being publicly shown in this country.
§ LORD BESWICK
A year ago it was not shown publicly; it was shown in a private club. It now has a licence. If this process develops, one cannot say what will be shown on public licence one year as from to-day. That is the reason for a great deal of the disquiet that is being voiced this afternoon.
I know, my Lords, that some very sincere people have proven to their own satisfaction that there are no deleterious consequences of all this. There was the extraordinary United States Congressional Commission on obscenity and pornography, and they came to something of that conclusion. I was not surprised that their recommendations were thrown out. According to the report in World Medicine, they set about their inquiry with all the advantages of advanced technology.
671 I read—and I quote from the report inWorld Medicine—that subjects were shown three films and controls were monitored for heart rate, respiration, blood volume, pulse, penile circumference—using a mercury-filled silicone strain gauge—skin temperature, body movement and strength of cardiac contraction.The group under Dr. Howard came to the surprising conclusion that penile circumference was:the most sensitive and discriminating measurement.What a commentary on modern affluent civilisation! Men on the moon, defoliants for the trees and crops of Vietnam, and a mercury-filled silicone strain gauge for measuring penile circumference! My Lords, is there not some reason to believe that we have lost our sense of moral purpose?
Before I go on to say what I think should be done, maybe I can assert what I believe should not be done. I do not believe that we should talk about the good old days of virtue. We must not risk going back to Victorian prudery and hypocrisy. I do not believe we should concern ourselves at all as to what consenting adults do in private. I am all for the freest, frankest, fullest expression of love in physical terms. But I want, as the noble Viscount. Lord Norwich, put it, the social environment to be as clean and as healthy as practicable, so that individuals form their character in the best possible environment. I want to curb those who seek simply to exploit the sexual instinct for commercial purposes.
I believe that we have a responsibility to society to take certain actions. I read with pleasure, as did my noble friend Lord Longford, that the Home Secretary on Monday recommended a more resolute use of the power of cinema licensing authorities to deal with offensive advertisements of films. Had he not taken that action I should have pressed for it. As it is, I commend him for what he has done. I urge that he should see that his recommendations are heeded, and it will be good to have an assurance from the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, that those recommendations are indeed to be properly monitored.
I support the line taken by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, with regard to the use of public funds for the support of 672 enterprises which give undoubted offence to the majority of citizens, the taxpayers who provide those funds. I ask that the position of so-called cinema clubs be reviewed. If the review takes place now, in something of the spirit indicated by Burke, it could well be that some measure of control could be agreed that would permit proper artistic experiment and yet cut out the obvious commercial exploitation of muck. I put these tine-clubs first because they appear to be the front runners in the business.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Longford that something should be done to strengthen the purpose, if not the actual authority, of the Board of Film Censors. I am not sure that I go all the way with him in suggesting a different piece of machinery. What is needed are new guidelines for the present machinery. My understanding is that the Board is prepared to license any film on the basis of what they construe to be public acceptability. The truth is that what is apparently acceptable to the public is changed by the very films which they display, and there is a dialogue here the end of which we have not yet seen. It behoves those who are in favour of change to express themselves more insistently and they should influence the level of public acceptability within which the Board of Film Censors works. I suggest that this is a matter in which the film industry and the Home Office and representatives of the local authority might well get together to reconsider their position.
I also support the view put forward by my noble friend Lord Longford, and I believe by the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, and by Sir Alan Herbert in The Times article already mentioned, that something should be done to get away from the phrase "deprave and corrupt" and that more legal emphasis should be put upon "indecent and offensive". Here again, however, any ready or instant change is out of the question. But it would be helpful to know that the point is being considered. My noble friend Lord Longford made one point among many which I thought was significant when he said that no one book or play or film will deprave or corrupt a person. We are not, I think, concerned with the effect of any particular exhibition or publication. It is a matter of the general 673 environment or atmosphere or ethos of our society. It is the culminating effect with which we should be more concerned not the specific influence of one particular instance of pornography.
I posed earlier the question which is sometimes put: "What harm does it do?" I am sure that that is the wrong question. What we should be asking is, what good does it do? If it can be shown to me that there is positive good, then I am prepared to be persuaded. But if not, why run the risk? Like others who have served or spent time in the Middle East and similar places I have been approached on occasions by pitiful individuals who for monetary consideration were prepared to let me have dirty postcards or to give an exhibition of sexual practices. I used to think that this was a phenomenon in those underdeveloped countries which reflected the sheer poverty of those people. I used to think that, given improvements in education and the general standard of life, that sort of thing would go. It is one of the most depressing facts of contemporary life that instead of such practices disappearing, the more we have advanced means of communication at our disposal the more they are used for what is essentially a sordid commercial purpose.
Maybe the real problem, as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, posed it, is what lies beneath. We should be discussing what kind of society it is we are trying to construct. On the other hand, a less pessimistic view is that it will all work itself out and that society will react against the current trend as on occasions it has seemed to do in the past. There may well be something in that but, if so it will not be because society reacts in any abstract way but because individual members of society insist that the problem be looked at afresh. It is because my noble friend Lord Longford has helped us to do that to-day that I believe we are in his debt.
§ 4.31 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF NEW-CASTLE
My Lords, I am sure that the House is already showing that it shares in the deep concern so clearly manifest in the introduction to this debate by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, even though some of your Lordships will not find it possible to accept 674 all his emphases or conclusions. May I say therefore that I wish to associate myself wholeheartedly with the main tenor of the noble Earl's intention? Particularly I welcome his suggestion that there should be a wide-ranging inquiry, just as I would agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, who I think hinted also we have all in public life something to do. Further, I welcome Lord Longford's own proposal to set a working party to work on this whole vexed question of how we are rightly to exercise responsibility in a free society.
I am glad to say that there are a few Christian groups who are already making an effort to contribute something to the debate upon, and study of, this vital question. The Board of Social Responsibility of the General Synod has published a very short report, Obscene Publications, Law and Practice, which will be submitted to the General Synod later this year. Again, an ecumenical group convened by the Department of Christian Citizenship will publish a report relevant to this debate in June this year. May I quote a small extract from the former of these two, simply in order to show how much I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, in his general contention? The report says:Material which is plainly pornographic and which has no other objective or intention should be entirely prohibited. There is no difficulty in recognising such materal. Tons of it are already seized and destroyed by the authorities without the possibility of protest in the name of art, literature or public good even being considered. To allow such material a free market is to pollute the social atmosphere and to stimulate, for profit, a taste for sexual display, including sexual perversions. The same considerations apply to the horrific and the cruel.When I read the essays of those who enunciate the doctrine to which I believe some noble Lords would give assent—I mean, of course, the doctrine that since we are now grown up we must be left to look after ourselves as best we can—I am very much inclined, in my study chair, to throw up my hat and mentally to shout: "Utopia is just round the corner." Then I go back to work, and to the realities of the human situation. Then the sweet reasonableness of the charmer seems to be borne on a voice from an ivory tower: and I know that I must be patient with the untidiness—and the wisdom of compromise, even when it 675 includes the awkward compromise of an almost unworkable, untidy and difficult set of laws.
I shall assume that "menace" means what it says. The shock, shame and disgust caused to ordinary people (the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, was representing them very faithfully) by having dirt unavoidably thrust upon them is an imposition from which the law should protect them, if it is fulfilling its role as guardian of individual freedom. I hope there may be general agreement about the right of the citizen to protection. But what of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, about the threat or danger inherent in all that the Motion collectively calls "pornography"? My Lords, pornography is evil. From whatever civilised standpoint we regard it, it is evil. It trivialises the important. It distorts the truth into untruth. But has it the power to harm? Suppose we accept, just for a moment anyway, the contention that in itself its capacity to harm and corrupt is unproven. It is argued, of course, that if you have built into you a reasonable set of standards of judgment, and filth is pushed at you, you know what to do with it—as I am sure your Lordships knew what to do with a certain billet doux that came in our post a few days ago. I was thankful that I opened my post that morning and that my secretary did not do so. I believe that a very large number of our people know what to do with it. But that is not the end of the matter. The menace of this muck lies not so much within itself as in the state of the field in which it is spread.
May I quote a sentence or two of the late Sir Richard Livingstone in a small book called, Education for a World Adrift? He wrote:If we were looking for a catchword to describe our age, various phrases would occur to the mind: we might call it the Age of Science, or the Age of Social Revolution, or the Age without Standards. None would be exhaustive, none quite just; but the last would have some claim to consideration. That may seem a hard judgment. For our age has great virtues …Our weakness is that good and evil are mixed together and that the tares not only grow among the wheat but are not distinguished from it. Look at any issue of our cheap daily papers in peace time and you will see what I mean.676 That was written 30 years ago. Is it less true to-day? The point I would make is that a very great number of our people are vulnerable, in that their upbringing has failed to impart to them the guidelines to help in distinguishing between the trivial and the important, between the truth and its distortion.
I spent some time the other day sitting and listening-in at a week's vocational conference, attended by 60 boys and girls from comprehensive schools, an arbitrarily chosen cross-section of the young, most of whom will soon be earning their living—if there are jobs for them. They were guided by various means, mostly visual aids and their own researches, into elementary discussion of their views of life and society, and in particular of their own future in it. Those young people seemed to me to be independent, well-mannered and very cooperative. I am told by the leaders who were living with them that some of them were quite amoral; also, that some were instinctively repelled by nastiness, but had no clue why they were so repelled.
One general impression was given to me and was shared by all the other leaders taking part in that conference. That general impression concerning the experience of those young people is conveyed by this very brief exchange in the course of a group discussion:A boy: "What we want is more education.Group leader: "You mean, further years than you are getting at school?The boy: "No. I don't. I mean more of this we're doing now.Group leader: "But don't you get the chance sometimes to talk like this at homeThe boy: "Are you kidding? We've never had a chance like this week is, before.My Lords, for many, in the society for which you and I would feel a responsibility and of which we are part, this is an age without standards. They are deprived. And how free are the deprived? The law cannot make men moral, any more than one can make a golden age out of leaden men. But it can state what the dominant opinion of the community is. And in a pluralist society, in an age without standards, the most widely acceptable authority able to say. "This is filth", is the law we make for ourselves; and in the situation in which we actually are to-day the risk of a little paternalism is worth taking.
677 There is one small point to add to what has already been said, so may I conclude in this way? It is on the ground that making what we call obscene publications freely available would convey, in the words of the Report I referred to a moment ago,to young and old alike that standards of propriety no longer matter; that these are merely private and not social concerns; that they are matters of public indifferencethat I myself would hope that no attempt would be made to amend the law at this time, except in the matter of stopping very obvious gaps, as suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I also feel that such revision should not be entered into before a great deal more study and public consideration has been given to the proper exercise of corporate responsibility in a free society.
There is another reason why I hope that we might be given the benefit of the results of some further intensive study, especially if this study covered a rather wider field than that encompassed by this Motion. I have a suspicion—and I believe I share this with the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich—that the dirt that can be recognised as such may not in fact be as harmful as the insidious infiltration of false values through media which are legally reputable. Dr. John Robinson, in an essay called Obscenity and Maturity wrote of pornography:I am inclined to think that its most pervasive and corrosive effects are not to be found at the extremes where the law might he invoked. The real corruption of a society's attitude towards sex sets in much earlier on, with all that suggests, arouses and plays upon an attitude to love, nudity, sexual gratification and experiment which"—and here he was also quoting D. H. Lawrence—is trivial, cheap and nasty'. This is the charge against so much of the paperback market, the sex-magazines, the strip-shows, the suggestive advertising. It is not pornography in the legal sense, but it is the persistent exploitation of sexual stimulation for commercial gain which is the essence of prostitution. And it has the power to demoralise and to desecrate which any person, especially any young person, in our society needs a great deal of strength to withstand.My Lords, I must close because time goes on and I realise how much your Lordships have already suffered. The "persistent exploitation" to which Robinson refers should no doubt in its extreme forms be legally restrained. But 678 it will certainly not be cured by repressive legislation, censorship or the like. Other agencies than the law must bear responsibility for helping people to develop moral sensitivity so that they can "vote with their feet", as we say. But the law must keep the ring. This is what a very large number of our people look for, because they know very well, often through costly experience, how vulnerable our society is at this present time. We cannot have a truly free society without restraints. Of course, the very best of them are self-imposed. Is it possible that we can do more to encourage every institution and body of persons privileged to influence or entertain to recognise thatexploitation of sexual stimulation for commercial gain is the essence of prostitutionandhas the power to demoralise and to desecrate"?To quote that Report again:Is there a therapeutic necessity to publicise and advertise the intimacies and even the perversions of humanity? Is there not need for restraint in these matters in order to conserve and develop our proper humanity—restraint with dignity, not secrecy?".What we are discussing, my Lords, is the isolation of all that we mean by "sex", or is taken under that word, from that delicately woven pattern of human relationships which in fact give to sex its meaning, its dignity, its beauty and its joy. That isolation damages us all. At worst, it reduces us to the sub-human.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity of following the right reverend Prelate after he has expressed such authoritative views on this difficult subject on behalf of the Church. I begin by congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Longford, on promoting this debate and moving this Motion and on the most comprehensive speech he made. We all have the greatest admiration for the noble Earl and know how very well qualified he is to speak about these difficult matters.
The noble Earl made out a very powerful case both with regard to the growth of pornography and with regard to the weakness of the law as it now stands in checking it. I must say that I entirely agree with the noble Earl that here, in Parliament, is the right place for this difficult subject to be debated. 679 We really cannot expect other people to take the lead where we fear to tread. Therefore, we owe a special debt of gratitude to the noble Earl, Lord Longford. Furthermore, as to the quality of the speeches the Motion has inspired, the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, and especially my noble friend Lord Eccles have all contributed, in my judgment, notable speeches which will be read with close attention outside.
The subject is a difficult one to deal with because, on the one hand, it is slightly ridiculous and therefore is a subject of humour and, on the other hand, it is undoubtedly reprehensible and therefore all of us approach it with distaste. I am bound to say that I am taking part in this debate only because I entirely agree with Lord Longford that the volume of pornography that is now appearing in this country is undoubtedly having a corrupting influence. There will always be a certain amount of pornography about. There always has been, and anyone who really wanted to could always get it. In my opinion, it would be most unwise of Parliament to take note of that sort of situation, but today the signs are that commercial interests are moving in, in a big way, to exploit the human weakness of lust for financial gain, because they know that the law is too weak to restrain them. In a slightly different context, I have been interested but rather alarmed to see in a movement in which I am interested, the "Feed the Minds" campaign, which provides reading material for the underdeveloped countries, the mass of pornographic literature which is flooding into those countries. Somebody is financing that and it is obviously making a profit for somebody.
In these circumstances, I believe that the time is right for Parliament to take note of what is happening in our country and to consider whether action is needed to check this new threat of the pollution of the environment. Here I go along with the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich; I think he coined an admirable phrase for us to use generally in this context, because it is a slogan that people understand. Here we are concerned very much with the pollution of the environment.
I also think that the general publication of pornographic material is receiving support from influential sources. I 680 have read more than one leading article in national newspapers—indeed one which shook me considerably, in a paper I admire, the Daily Mirror—supporting publication. There are two main arguments which I feel should be answered, and I should like to try to answer them in my speech. The first answer has already been referred to, but I should like to answer it slightly differently. It is the traditional argument that the liberty of the subject is threatened by any restriction on pornographic material because it will suppress artistic or literary expressions. This is the traditional argument that, generally speaking, has us all flummoxed, and the pornographers get away with it. Of course there is force in this argument. We all know how difficult it is to differentiate between a book like the Canterbury Tales (which certainly has some pretty rough passages in it) and something which is straight pornographic filth. There is a problem here and I shall have a suggestion to make later in my speech about it.
The second argument touches on a point dealt with by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, which is that this pornographic material has an educational value for the young and that instruction in sex is desirable. Of course, lately this has been taken to extremes. Again there is a serious argument here. Undoubtedly education in sex is desirable. I should like to develop a general argument in dealing with these two points. The effect of pornography is to stimulate and debase sexual appetite and action. The danger, therefore, is that it will tempt people into a life of sexuality and lust. Lust has been regarded throughout the ages as one of the deadly sins, and it has been so regarded because all human experience has confirmed its damaging effects. The fact that it has often been committed, and indeed is often committed to-day, and probably even more talked about, does not make it any less cogent.
The sanctions for the deadly sin of lust are not the sanctions of the law (we have always been wise enough in this country to leave it outside the law) but the much more formidable sanctions of your own conscience. I am not in the least deterred by the point made by my noble friend Lord Eccles, that one cannot prove that one has a conscience or what it does. We all know jolly well that we have got one 681 and it is up to us, who perhaps understand a little more about these things, to face that fact. The fact is that man is not just an animal who can indulge his sexual urges without restraint. As well as his body and his physical appetites and instincts he has a soul. For those who are not of a religious bent he has what the psychologists call an "animal". In this part of his psyche reside all his finer feelings of love, truth and beauty, and, if he believes in God, through which he will be conscious of God. It is this part of a man's nature which moves him to compassion for his fellows and moves him to acts of unselfishness for his family, for his friends, and indeed acts of heroism for his family and his friends, and even for his nation.
Again, the fact that one cannot prove any of these things does not in the least deter me from asserting that this is so; we all know it to be so and it is up to us to say so. Within a happy marriage a man's physical relationship with his wife is the expression of the spiritual side of his nature in the real love that he feels for her, and the spiritual and physical sides are reconciled in his physical relationship in the perfect love that they have for each other. This is indeed release and freedom, and happy are the men and women who know it. But the casual sexual act outside marriage is usually for motives of physical satisfaction only (or partly, anyway) and despite a man's conscience. Of course, this is even more so as sexuality degenerates into perversion and other vices. In youth, these encounters perhaps do not leave too much of a scar, though even then sometimes the feelings of a man or a woman get too much involved and they are left in a state of neurotic unhappiness. But if this promiscuous form of life is persisted in into middle age and later life it progressively takes its toll. By the constant suppression of their finer feelings and the inevitable deceit and deception involved, such men and women become progressively more coarse, boring people. They have literally strangled the finer sides of their natures and reduced their lives to human tragedies.
My Lords, Falstaff is a figure who amuses us in small doses, but basically he is an object of pity. His life is a 682 wreck, with all that is worth while gone, and we would not want any young person known to us to end up like that or, as the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, so graphically put it, a man in a dirty raincoat going to "blue" films. The reason why lust has been regarded as a deadly sin throughout the ages is its utter destructiveness, and the fact that anyone, if they like, can "do it" to-day—of course they can; they always could—does not make it any less so, and the sanctions against it come from inside the human psyche and not from outside.
Here, then, is the answer to the advocates of unrestrained publication of material about sex in the interests of education, and the removal of a sense of guilt. The sense of guilt that a person feels is an expression of the inner feelings of the person concerned, and it can only be removed by helping him to bring his actions into harmony with his conscience. The education in sex of course is far the best if it is done by the parent in the intimacy of the family circle where there is love and protection, but where this difficult job falls on teachers, obviously their approach must he most careful and most sensitive, to avoid frightening or shocking children.
This leads me to the answer to the main argument of the protagonists of the publication of pornographic material in the interests of the liberty of the subject. I hope that I have shown by my argument that this is really oversimplifying. The fact is that there is more than one kind of human liberty. There is spiritual liberty as well as physical liberty, and we shall be doing a very poor service to mankind if we allow the pornographers to excite the physical expression to the point of indulgence at the expense of suppressing spiritual expression to the point of extinction. That is the danger.
How serious is this danger? One may well ask. Will people have the common sense to ignore pornographic material if it disgusts? I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that the danger is serious. The authors of modern pornography pitch their material very cunningly to excite the libido. As my noble friend Lord Eccles put it, they are hijackers of most accomplished techniques. They really are dangerous, and the continuous 683 flow of this material means that it is always about. Older people protect themselves against it by ignoring it because they have learnt the wisdom of avoiding temptations which they find it difficult to resist, but the young are not so forearmed. They are all too susceptible to the corrupting influence of the continuous contact. I entirely agree with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that one single piece of pornography would not corrupt anybody; it is the continuing contact with it which has a damaging effect, and the dramatic increase in the volume of this material in the past decade indicates the profitability of the market. Evidently the volume of pornography will continue to increase at the same alarming rate unless something is done to check it.
The noble Earl, Lord Longford, discussed at length the present legal position and its weakness, and concluded by asking the Government to set up a committee of inquiry. Well, that may be the right course to take. Certainly I would ask my noble friends on the Government Bench to take the necessary action to find out the facts about the growth and, so far as they can, the effects of this material. Also we should all, obviously, do what we can to find out what people are feeling about this subject generally. The noble Earl's Motion to-day is immensely valuable in having given him the response he has already had and in focusing the mind of our people on this difficult subject. I suspect that the silent majority of our people aready want to see the flow of pornography checked. But I also expect that my noble friends on the Government Bench will want something more than my suspicion before they move in such a difficult field. They must be satisfied that the majority of the nation want it.
I would conclude with a few words about what action the Government might take. I am not so optimistic that a change in the law will be effective. It is clearly extremely difficult to frame laws which will allow the artistic and valuable and exclude the really pornographic. I think it would even be difficult to frame a law which would admit a nude statue sculptured by Michelangelo and exclude a nude in some pornographic magazine. The fact is that the effect of the image is determined by the inspiration and the intention of the artist, and 684 Michelangelo's inspiration and intention was one thing and the pornographer's is very much another. But we all know when we look at these things whether they are pornographic or artistic. And this brings me to the conclusion, which may not be a popular one, that I am doubtful whether we shall be able to deal with this matter satisfactorily by changes in the law.
I had some regard for the old system of the Lord Chamberlain's office and censorship of the theatre. It is true that it was an archaic structure, but it did not do half a bad job. It did try to move with the times. I am inclined to think that when Government, we in Parliament, are satisfied that the majority of the nation want a move made, probably the right move would be to set up a censorship authority responsible for the whole range of artistic, literary and dramatic expression. They would be appointed by the Government and responsible to a Minister, and they would be required to make to Parliament every year a report which could be debated. In this way we should make them, so far as it was humanly possible, responsible to the nation as a whole. If they did their job properly they would no doubt be as heavily criticised by those who thought they allowed too much as by those who thought they allowed too little. They would get plenty of criticism: in this field so much depends on the exercise of personal judgment, but be that as it may. It is only a thought; we are obviously some little way from it. I hope to hear from my noble friend Lord Windlesham, when he winds up, that the Government are prepared to advance, even if cautiously, in this field, because I feel sure that action is needed here; and I am deeply grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for giving us the chance to say so.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend on two counts: first, for initiating this debate, and, secondly, for giving me the privilege, when he was Leader of this House, of sitting on the Select Committee dealing with theatre censorship. I feel rather out of tune with the kind of revivalist atmosphere that this debate has turned into. We are all shocked by different things, and though I am not 685 easily shocked I feel that perhaps our permissive society has swung a little too far one way and will probably swing a little back now. If we are to have this kind of revivalist debate we ought to have a kind of morality customs whereby we are asked, "Have you anything to declare?" before we speak at all.
I am also shocked by the stance of everyone who has spoken so far—I felt more in sympathy with the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle than with any other speaker—in thinking and speaking of sex, physical sex, as something dirty, something animal in the pejorative sense, and then divorcing it from love, spiritual love. I have found this most shocking and unattractive.
I was also shocked by the list of perversions that my noble friend went through—the clinical list—in such great detail; because, after all, these practices go on in the nuptial bed after the two people have been blessed in the Church. We know that they go on. Therefore, what is all the fuss about? Does one want these facts utterly repressed, never to be written about, never to he shown? I am not in favour of seeing sexual intercourse on the stage. Please do not get me wrong, my Lords. This has nothing to do with it. I mean, what are we trying to say. After all, there is no compulsion to read a pornographic book, no compulsion to see a pornographic film or to go to pornographic striptease. There is no compulsion about this; there is simply the freedom for some people who want these things to be able to see them.
I mentioned the theatre censorship Select Committee. I learned a great deal there about the difficulties of knowing where to draw the line on pornography without either endangering freedom of speech or crippling the arts and literature. I feel that I should have brushed up on my knowledge of the latest in pornography, because no pornographic literature has been thrust through my letterbox; and in any case so much unsolicited advertising does arrive that there is a very short route, from my discerning eye; to the wastepaper basket. Nor have I read any pornographic hooks lately, or seen Oh! Calcutta! or any of the sexy films people talk about. As I say, there is no compulsion about this, 686 and we need not see them. I am not easily shocked by such plays or films. Nor do I regard shockability as a test of virtue. People are prone to be more easily shocked as they grow older, as we see here to-day. I think it should be the other way round because it is a great handicap when trying to understand young people to-day. There are far too few young people taking part in this debate.
Particularly in this age, we should not underestimate the passionate curiosity of the young about everything in life, nor should we be surprised if they do not accept our moral values. They make the biggest contribution to our lives by questioning these values. Older people —and, as I have said, there are not many young speakers here to-day—are not very convincing when they hark back to a period in which, apparently, things were so much better than they are to-day in our society. I utterly reject this idea—it is not true. There never was a time when life was so wonderful; nor do I accept that it is disgusting to-day. I just do not believe it.
Of course we need to protect our young people, but not by deception and maintaining their ignorance. After all, they can read their history books, too. We are still suffering from the sins of our fathers in the Victorian era; the legacy of hypocrisy. The older generation is still shellshocked by the very candour of the present time. When the problems and the menace of pornography are exaggerated, we neglect the many more serious problems that menace our society. We approach the problems of pornography from a very shaky platform. Few of us can define it; no one to-day has really done so. We have had a plethora of subjective opinions, which is perfectly all right, but there has been no definition.
Many crimes have been committed against political freedom and the arts in the name of morality. There is both a fashion and a progression in morality. A glossary of banned books in Ireland would make most of us smile to-day. In 1967, in Denmark, as the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich said, the laws against obscenity in literature were repealed. The underground market was always there and, for a few months, as he said, it increased. But then it slumped lower 687 than before the repeal of the law until the publishers—and he did not mention this—became bankrupt and were left struggling to produce respectable books. This is a really modern morality fable.
The whole question of pornography is clouded by subjective opinions, taste and custom. The case for legislation that is pointed out so often rests not on facts, or on the analysis of anti-social consequences; and, after very many committees, there is no hard evidence that obscenity corrupts. A little doubt, however, has crept in about the results of the persistent reading of violence. It is interesting to note that Sweden, which is legislatively lax on sex, is much harder on violence. No-one has ever convinced me that there is injury to society from reading many of the books some people would label pornographic. I believe that repression accounts for more neuroses than freedom for young people to read and find out the facts of life and about people.
The communication explosion has thrown a grenade into our ideas of morality. To-day, there is a universal and prevalent desire to know everything and show everything: that is why nudity is the rage, and fashion has become not the putting on of clothes but taking them off. There is a universal drive to communicate in literature the most innermost thoughts and ideas, and of course there is the mass media ready to exploit the sensational ideas. There has always been a black market for these things, and now it is quite open in its manifestations. Of course, as a result, we have the most unattractive exhibitionist side as well, encouraged by the ramifications of all the financial exploitation. The Press seizes every opportunity of blowing up incidents, not always from the highest motives. We have heard a great deal about Dr. Martin Cole's educational film Growing Up, which I have not seen. This is the latest example of an experiment that seems to have become spoilt, partly because of the exhibitionism involved in it.
There is a great need for sexual education of teenagers, which is both healthy and necessary. This film, from what I have heard, seems to have failed in the educational part of it. I do not think that the film is educational in the proper and widest sense. Sexual education can- 688 not be instant, and these visual pictures of sexual acts are not the ones that are the most educational. These do not educate young people either in the technique or in the art of lovemaking. What they appear to be successful in doing is in shocking the parents and teachers, and perhaps most of us in this noble House; and they are successful in unleashing an avalanche of unctuous, self-righteous preaching. It is with what this film left out that I quarrel: the dangers of promiscuity leading to the increase of venereal disease. As well as this, there should have been a warning on the risks of freedom, because there are always risks about freedom, and it is freedom unaccompanied by responsibility which produces the reactions, the setbacks, and the dangers which are always inimical to these freedoms.
I am afraid I do not go along with my noble friend Lord Longford in the terms of this debate. However unattractive and unpleasant pornography has become, I do not believe that to-day it is a real menace. There are many urgent, more pressing problems that we should turn our attention to; I believe this is one of the least of them.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I draw her attention to the fact that she said we are not under a compulsion to read pornographic literature. I wonder whether the noble Baroness is aware of the completely bestial—you cannot describe it; it is far worse than obscene—literature that can be bought by the public and by children? You have only to walk down the Kings Road, for instance, and Royal Avenue, where you can buy it. That fact was brought to my attention by foreign tourists. It is the most amazing literature, and "bestial" does not really describe it. It is open for any young people to buy, and I really think that the noble Baroness cannot have seen these publications.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, I am afraid I have not seen these publications, but I still think that the number of children buying them is much exaggerated. If I have not come across them, I wonder how many noble Lords in this House have come across them. I doubt if there were very many—not for children, anyway.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ LORD BETHELL
My Lords, this is one of the very few subjects, I imagine, of which your Lordships have little expert knowledge or first-hand experience. Nevertheless, I am grateful to the noble Earl for introducing this debate with his customary wit and enthusiasm. It is a subject which is very topical—it has been in the newspapers most days this week—and it is a fortunate coincidence that your Lordships should be discussing it this afternoon. Nor would I quarrel with the noble Earl's basic thesis, which he uttered at the beginning of his speech. He said that pornography had increased, was increasing and ought to be diminished. The first two statements I think are incontrovertible. The third I would perhaps modify a little by substituting for "ought to be diminished" "ought to diminish ", since the question would arise, in the event of our accepting the noble Earl's suggestion, who should do the diminishing?
Harmful pornography is consumed by the dissatisfied and the unhappy. It is an unpleasant business. No one likes it unless he is in that unfortunate position, and certainly it ought to diminish. But I suggest that my noble friend would be a rash man were he to take the powers which the noble Earl proposed in an attempt to stamp this out. There is still ignorance about the effect of hardcore pornography. I also, like the noble Earl, managed to be presented with a copy of the "little red book", and in it I see on page 104 the statement that it is a fact that the amount of criminal indecency in Denmark has dropped sharply since pornography became legal there. Incidentally, I give notice that since it is a criminal offence to distribute this book I shall burn mine before leaving the Palace of Westminster. I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Windlesham, who is to reply to the debate—and I apologise for raising this—has any information which could confirm or deny the fact. Presumably the Danish authorities keep records and I suspect that they may be available to his Department. If he does not answer, I wonder whether he would let me know in due course. It would be interesting to know.
Another point on which the noble Earl failed to convince me was in his refusal to draw a distinction between public ex- 690 hibition of pornography and private availability. I take the view that hard-core pornography, the sort of stuff that one sees hidden and wraped in cellophane in the Charing Cross Road, is the less dangerous sort. It is not very widely bought and not very widely read. I take a firmer approach to the erotic and sometimes tasteless material which is stuffed down our throats—the public pornography of the cinema film displayed at eye level for every passer-by to see; the advertising that sometimes comes through our letter-boxes—I had some this week in connection with this debate. I took the point which the noble Earl raised when quoting David Holbrook about young people being urged towards the sexual norm for which they probably had no taste orignally but which they dare not reject for fear of being thought "square". This is a danger, and, I think, a greater danger than that of filth and dirt.
Another point which comes under the heading of pornography is violence. My noble friend Lord Eccles made an excellent point when he quoted the example of advertising and made the point that repetition pays off. The repetition of violence, I think, has paid off, and we see examples of it in the increase in the crime figures. I have also been more disturbed by what I would call the James Bond philosophy, the playboy philosophy, which postulates the existence of a cloud cuckoo-land flowing with champagne and caviare and populated by beautiful maidens, a land not unlike the description of paradise in the Koran. This is very likely to deprave and corrupt, indicating as it does, that those who do not possess these delights should strive to acquire them, and that if they do not they are missing out and are somehow to be despised. In this connection one should mention that advertising is very often directed to this impulse. It pushes towards an abnormal over-sexuality and is therefore dangerous, although it is not filth.
I would also ask the noble Earl not to be over-enthused by the letters he has received in the last few days. He may have received 1,000, but he did say, on the basis of the letters he had received, that he had reason to believe that a large majority in this country support him. I wonder who his correspondents were.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
I did not quite say that. I said I believe that potentially a majority exist.
§ LORD BETHELL
I apologise to the noble Earl, I did not hear the word "potentially". On one point I believe that his correspondents gave themselves away. The noble Earl mentioned that a large proportion of them brought up the involvement of television with pornography. My Lords, I wonder whether any Member of this House has ever seen a pornographic programme on television. I have had some information given to me by the B.B.C. about programmes to which very great objection was taken. There were the broadcasts of an excerpt from Midnight Cowboy and an excerpt from the film, Women in Love, which were shown at peak viewing hours when children might be watching. This was a violation of the normal B.B.C. code, and I understand that the B.B.C. apologised for these mistakes. The B.B.C. were also heavily criticised for scenes shown in certain programmes—Emma's Time, Edward II, Modigliani. These may have been erotic; they may have been tasteless. But would anyone suggest that they were pornographic? I suspect that the noble Earl's correspondents have a different concept of pornography from most of us, and even from the concept which the noble Earl has.
Above all, my Lords, I hope the Government will not panic over this matter, that they will not treat pornography as an isolated evil, or even as one of the great and dangerous menacing evils which this country faces. Attitudes to sex have changed very greatly in recent years, not necessarily for the worst in every case. Sexual activity has increased: I think this is clear. It is increasing; but ought it to be diminished? The noble Earl would say, Yes, but some people, particularly young people, may disagree. It is on this sort of subject that the generation gap is extremely apparent, and I fear that panic legislation such as the noble Earl has proposed, and even panic talk, would widen it.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ BARONESS LEE OF ASHERIDGE
My Lords, I am delighted to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, who has just resumed his seat, because in his concluding remarks he went right to the core of the problem. What are we discussing 692 this afternoon? Are we discussing highly commercialised sex, or are we discussing the ardent need and insistence of the present younger generation to know a great deal more about themselves, their physical, their spiritual and their psychological selves, than many of their fathers and grandfathers knew? We shall do a great disservice this afternoon if we are not quite clear precisely what we are talking about. Are we talking about highly commercialised sex? It is a bore. If you are travelling by train and pick up a book, you find every cover has the same young lady being stripped of her clothes. I picked up a copy of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex which I wanted to give to someone, and I managed to snatch it away in time from another customer who, I am sure, had a quite different concept of it from the one I had. Books are all wrapped up in the same cellophane casings which are vulgar and gaudy. But your Lordships are not going to do anything about it. You are not going to be permitted to do anything about it, because if you did you would be interfering with an important commercial market. That is what goes to the root of the matter.
Lord Norwich quoted Marilyn Monroe as saying that sex is here to stay. Pornography, too, is here to stay, in the kind of society in which we live. There is much less pornography in a puritanical society. There is much less pornography in a society which tries to get rid of class distinctions. I am not pursuing this argument. I am merely saying that that is a fact. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, made a very interesting historical survey and I was fascinated by what he had to say, but my analysis would be rather different. In a previous speech, the noble Viscount was very candid. He said that if people want to go down into a cellar and see something thoroughly extraordinary, then let them pay for themselves and not ask the body of taxpayers to put up the money. That is the basic difference between private pornography and public pornography. Public pornography, commercial pornography, is 99 per cent. of what we are talking about, but your Lordships must not let this House be accused of hypocrisy. Your Lordships' House is going to do nothing about it, because you would be interfering with too many high profits and with too many great vested interests.
693 Let us look further into this subject. What is the historical background? Surely it is that in the Victorian age there were such double standards. In our schooldays, many of us were taught as if our Victorian grandparents and greatgrand-parents were born in long-tailed coats and top hats, and never removed them. But the younger generation are better educated, and I believe that the best of them are a Puritan generation in the best sense of the term: that they are shocked by hypocrisy and double standards. If they think there is dirt under the carpet, they like to bring it up to the surface and have a look at it. I also believe that they are fascinated by the psychological, as well as by the sexual, problems which they have to face; and fascinated in particular by cruelty and war. In the main, they are anti-war. They want to understand this craving to wound, to dominate, to hurt. At the present time, I see our only hope lying in the best of the younger generation.
If it is a question of having further inquiries then, by all means, let us have them? But I am rather surprised that in the course of this debate I have heard no reference to a very careful and responsible study of the obscenity laws, which was made by a working party set up by a conference convened by the Chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain. I am glad to see that the Chairman of the Arts Council has now taken his place in this House. I am not saying, because that Report has been made, that there is no case for further inquiries; of course there is. But what emerges, for anyone who is willing to give any thought at all to the subject, is that you have the evidence of distinguished jurists, teachers and psychologists that, many, perhaps most, of the inmates of our prisons and mental institutions were warped by sexual maladjustments. That may be an overstatement, and there has been no exact measurement of numbers. But anyone who deals with psychiatric wards—and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, knows a great deal and has given a great deal of selfless, corn passionate study to prisoners, and I do not think he will disagree with me—knows that very often there is a childhood of ignorance, with a great sense of guilt and no opportunities.
I agree so much with the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, who asked: 694 Are there not more important crimes? Are there not more serious immoralities? We are not going to get rid of pornography. Everybody likes a little bit of it, now and again, at the right time. Do not let us be too hypocritical. There is a bit of the bawd in every saint, and a bit of saintliness in the bawdiest. Ought we not to try to understand the suffering that was caused in the past by ignorance, repression and hypocrisy? Can we not devise a means whereby our children can obtain reasonable knowledge of sex? Parents are often the wrong people to teach it. Parents and children are often deeply embarrassed and do not want to discuss sex with one another. That is true of many modern parents as well as of older parents. It might be a job for a friend or a school. The sensible compromise is surely that, just as a parent can exempt a child from religious instruction at school, a parent should be able to exempt a child from sex education at school. Of course we must handle this subject with the very greatest care.
But surely the dominant and important factor this afternoon is that we should rejoice that young people have fought for, and are winning, their freedom from so many of the ignorances, the fears and the sense of guilt that warped the lives of so many of their forefathers. Above all, I am glad that they are fighting against hypocrisy. The Welsh have many stories, and I always like the true story of a Welsh Elder, a miner who was a very holy man on the surface, the leader of his community. But he carried a packet of dirty postcards when he went to work down below. There was a young Welsh miner who was going to be sacked, and the holy man was in charge of his section. The trade union leaders went to him and said, "Be kind. Do not sack him. He may have made a mistake, but give him another chance. After all, you are taking the bread and butter away from his wife and children." But nothing they could say would influence this very holy man, until a certain young trade union official flourished a packet of dirty postcards and said, "I am going to show these to your fellow Elders." I am not giving any prizes for guessing who was the young trade union leader! But that was typical of what there was too much of in the past, and they still exist—double standards.
695 Perhaps what we are trying to do in this debate is not so much to change things as to get some of the dirt out of sight. We like the dustman to take away the refuse. We like the sanitary equipment in our houses to work properly. Maybe we are trying to give the poorer elements in the community a rise in their standard of life by suggesting that, if they want to go to a pornographic film or to the sad, sleezy kind of striptease which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, endured the other night, they should do it more discreetly. Just let us keep the dirt out of sight. There is something to be said for that. I am all in favour of good sanitation. But I do not think we should pretend this afternoon that we are doing very much more than that.
I am delighted that the general feeling of the House has been that we must go very carefully when we talk about legislation, which would be very dangerous indeed. I looked along my bookshelves before I came here, and I wondered how many of my books would have to be burned, beginning with certain chapters in Shakespeare and in the Bible. We know perfectly well that one generation—and I was one of them—used to have the Old Testament under the desk at school, because we were all avid to find out all we could. A later generation of children, some of whom I knew, found that the best book for under the desk then became Lady Chatterley's Lover. My Lords, the "under the desk" books change, but nothing is going to prevent young ones wanting to know all they can about themselves.
If we are concerned about tenderness, if we are concerned about beauty, if we want to give children a chance to have a fine life, then we are not going to do it on a basis of ignorance. Rather, I should like to echo the mood of something that the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, said: that there are more important things. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, will disagree with me, but if I were asked to define immorality I would say that I am much more shocked by an unwanted child being born into the world. I think that that is a crime against the child and against society. I think that a child which is waited for and wanted is a wonderful thing. I think that we should begin to 696 deal with pornography at its roots. We should give children the chance to feel that they have been born wanted. We should be concerned that they are fed properly; and we should enable them to go happily to school together.
I think it would be a great advantage if we stopped herding all the boys together as we herd them together at public schools. They may get a sound grounding in the Classics, and then there would be nothing left to their imagination. They would not have to go around Soho and Leicester Square looking for "odd" books. I think boys and girls should be educated naturally together, with a chance of good health, a sense of emotional security and a decent education.
I am not saying that that is the answer to the whole problem. I think your Lordships did a most enlightened job not long ago in changing the laws affecting homosexuality. We are learning about the infinite variety of human beings that there is, and I do not think those on whom the genes fall very definitely, either on to the male or the female side, should feel that this is something due to their innate virtue. Some people are born in a way in which life is easier for them. Others are born with natural tendencies and inclinations which make life more difficult for them. All I am pleading for is that boys and girls together should be given the right kind of education and should be given emotional security—and if the home cannot give it entirely, let the school, the community, the whole complex give it to them.
I am not saying that that is the final answer to pornography, but I do say that pornography is very often the refuge of the tired, the old and the defeated. It may be true that in a film like Flesh, which has been authorised, you see young people, but I have also had my scouts out, and probably the saddest thing in all the world—and what a confession of defeat! —is for elderly men or even elderly women to be slinking into dirty, pornographic sideshows. But that is the result: it is not the cause. What we have to try to do is to get a fairer, happier, more just kind of society, and to give our children the maximum chance, from the moment of their birth, 697 to grow up in a natural, normal, healthy environment. Then, if they want a spot of pornography now and again, they will know how to take it.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ LORD ROBERTHALL
My Lords, may I begin by associating myself with those who have thanked the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this very difficult but ever-interesting subject? I think I must start by saying to the noble Earl that I am emotionally on his side, and also that I agree with him and with many other noble Lords that things have gone too far and that there are issues of public policy involved. But it is a difficult subject and, especially when we come to consider what might be done or what should be done, I think we have to be very careful that we do not do more harm than good.
I want to mention three aspects, all of which of course have been touched on already. When I said that I was emotionally on the noble Earl's side, I used the word deliberately. We feel shocked, distressed or angry because things are done or said which are against the conventions to which we have become accustomed but, of course, a great many conventions are artificial, and almost all conventions are changing constantly. There is a danger that we shall consider our own conventions to have some absolute validity. Indeed, I felt that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, thought that the distinction between good and evil in this kind of field was a very much easier one to draw than historically it has turned out to be.
This point was very well made in a debate in your Lordships' House on mass media communication, in which a number of very sensible things were said. I do not want to labour the point, but I should like to give an example from my own experience, because it struck me so much. When I was a young don at Oxford, I read Sir Richard Burton's translation of Arabian Nights. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, has already referred in another context to Sir Richard. The author had been at the college where I was a Fellow, and I think perhaps a little maliciously had given a copy to the governing body. This was very embarrassing to them, and they kept it in a locked cupboard in a locked room.
698 It probably would not command much attention now, but in those days it appeared to be a very uninhibited document. But as I was a Fellow, I was able to have access to it, and I read it. I was very struck indeed by the long and learned preface to that book, in which, among other things, it was pointed out how difficult it was to give a good translation of this. The reason, as I understood it, was that in the Arabic-speaking world they did not have four-letter words in the sense in which we use them, and therefore things that at least in those days would have seemed very shocking and disturbing to us did not seem shocking or disturbing at all to them. That, then, is my first point.
My second point, which follows on—and it is one that has been made by several speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell—is that, with all its faults, I think the situation now is a great deal better than it was in the past. I was brought up by kind parents and in a happy home, but the hangover from Victorian views about this sort of thing was so strong that it was impossible for a child not to form ideas which would now be considered quite wrong. I used to suffer agonies if, when I was in company, I wanted to what is now called "wash my hands". I firmly believed that erotic activity was distasteful to all respectable women; and that masturbation would certainly lead to early madness and was probably a sin against the Holy Ghost. And we must all have read about the experiences of young women on their marriage night.
If we have gone too far now—and I think we have—we ought also to remember that we have been travelling along a road on which, by and large, it was a good thing for us to travel; and I think these two things, the changing nature of conventions and the fact that a lot of good has come from the changes, ought to be the background of all our discussion. Nevertheless, I think things have gone too far now.
To my mind there are two reasons for interfering with personal freedom. One is when the exercise of freedom by one person is extremely offensive to a large number of other people; the other is when the exercise of freedom is damaging to other people. On the first of those, I 699 think that it is perfectly reasonable that people should not do things in public, or offer things for sale publicly, which a large number of other people find intolerably offensive. On the second, I agree with a number of speakers that it cannot be other than damaging to children to be introduced to violence and to extreme forms of sexual behaviour by those who are exploiting their ignorance for commercial reasons.
I believe strongly that education is the best and the only safeguard against these dangers. I think that all children should have a proper and adequate education in these matters, and that it is only making things worse to have areas of behaviour which are, so to speak, prohibited or not to be talked about and which are driven underground. The fact that the information is difficult to get tends to create that state of mind which is described as "unhealthy curiosity". Of course, the problem of education is very difficult and controversial. I am inclined to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, and the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, that it is desirable that sexual education should be looked at carefully to see that it is not damaging to children. One thing that I think ought to be stressed is that there are a number of forms of activity which need not be gone into. Children should be told that if they do not want to be promiscuous, it is not abnormal not to be promiscuous; if they do not feel inclined to experiment in acrobatic or unusual ways there is nothing abnormal about that. I think that the whole approach to this subject needs a great deal of consideration, but at the same time I am sure that the best safeguard is good, adequate and sensible instruction.
Finally, when it comes to the question of what can or should be done I should like to mention again a point that I made during a debate in your Lordships' House on the police introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor: that the existence of laws not enforced tends to bring the law into disrepute and puts the police in great difficulties. I was speaking about traffic offences where I think that our principle is, "Let 20,000 pass, and fine the 20,001st." It is clear from the very extensive review of the law given by the noble Earl and from points made by other speakers that the 700 present situation about pornography is so uncertain that nobody knows when an offence is committed or when a prosecution would be successful. That is a very unfortunate state of affairs.
I do not agree with those who say that the thing should be abolished altogether. I think it has gone too far. If we have a commission of inquiry, one of the things that they ought to look at is how to get a workable definition of pornography. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, suggested that we should set up a body, give them authority and let them do what they see fit. That is the administrative way to do it. The other way is to get down to close definitions and not to use vague terms. I was interested in our debate yesterday on the Unsolicited Goods and Services Bill. It contained a clause about which I felt some misgivings. It was Clause 4, which made it an offence to send to another person an unsolicited publication or material advertising that publication which described or illustrated sexual techniques. There may be some difficulty in interpreting that; but at least it is an attempt to state in plain terms what it is that you are legislating against. If we have any experience with that clause, it should be looked at in any inquiry which is carried out. Again I thank the noble Earl for giving us the opportunity of discussing this interesting but difficult subject.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ BARONESS STOCKS
My Lords I am not going to range over the whole field of this question: many noble Lords have done that far more eloquently and adequately than I can. I should like just to raise certain specific points which seem to have arisen out of this discussion. One is the question of the "little red school-book" to which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred. I spent yesterday evening reading it. It is a most mischievous little book; I think it subversive of discipline and authority. Those are two qualities which are often overdone and have been overdone in the past but which I think a stable society cannot altogether do without. The book is not Communistic because we know that Communism as practised in Russia and as imposed on Russian satellites is rather strong on discipline and authority and rather puritanical about sex.
701 The book is in a way anarchic; it is socially divisive; it stresses the wickedness of the rich and the exploitation of the poor in education. It is age-group divisive and its discussion of sex (apart from the reference to the comparative safety of venereal disease, which I think is positively misleading) is not more pornographic than a great deal which is published now; but it is calculated. I think, to make children feel that after the age of puberty free sexual expression in various forms is the "done thing". That makes life a little difficult for those who do not want to do it. But I think that any attempt to penalise or prosecute the publishers of that book would be absolutely disastrous, because in my view it would have the same effect that the prosecution over Lady Chatterley's Lover had: of ensuring in that case a multimillion sale to all sorts of people who would not otherwise have brought that slightly tedious book. Once you penalise the circulation or publication or sale of that "little red book", you make it art undercover best-seller throughout the schools in this country; and that would be a regrettable thing.
The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, referred to pornography as a rather nasty feature of our present society's conventional attitude in regard to reticence, sex and all the rest. I think a rather nasty feature of the present increase in pornography (I am sure I am right to agree with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and to refer to the present increase) is the rise of what seems to ma to be a sort of intellectual school of pornography, led by" Pornographer No. 1", Mr. Kenneth Tynan, who is a member of the staff of the National Theatre. I do not know what to do about that. At the moment it is a curious and, to my mind, a very odd school of thought; and many people find it rather boring when expressed, as it now is, in the theatre and in the more thoughtful films. But I do not know what one can do about it. I believe that any attempt to penalise the young man whom I have described as "Pornographer No. 1" by removing him from the staff of the National Theatre would make him a kind of holy martyr, which would not be very good for him—and certainly not very good for the people who would admire him as a result.
702 Several noble Lords have referred to the prevalence of advertisements of nudity, and sexually suggestive advertisements. The noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, called attention to it. He indicted London Transport as one of the worst offenders. He is probably right; you cannot get away from it—unless, I suppose, you travel in a chauffeur-driven car and never visit the Underground or travel on a bus. But what to do about it, again I do not know. There is a rather interesting letter in The Times to-day from a Conservative M.P., Mr. John Stokes, in which he calls attention to it. He speaks of the ever-present hoardings; of illustrations of naked or semi-naked women on the railway stations, in the Underground, outside cinemas, on bookstalls and in many bookshops too. He suggests that it is a bad thing and that it does not represent the wishes of the English people. But, my Lords, if he thinks that the present Government are likely to legislate for its diminution, he is making a great mistake. I do not think that a Government who have given us commercial television, casinos, betting offices and bingo clubs, and who are about to give us commercial sound radio, will interfere with the liberty of so great a commercial interest as is the advertising industry in this country to-day. I think we may dismiss that hope altogether, at any rate for the present.
There is one other matter which I should like to call to the attention of the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I think he suggested an inquiry into the nature and spread of pornography.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I said that nothing would give me greater pleasure than to hear that the Government were going to set up their own inquiry. En any case, I would hope to set up an inquiry on my part, with the help of friends.
§ BARONESS STOCKS
My Lords, if any inquiry is set up, I believe that one matter which requires careful consideration is the effect of strip-tease clubs, and, I suppose, other forms of exhibitionism. Do those clubs have the sort of cathartic effect of satisfying sex excitement and leading it into relatively harmless channels? Or do they excite the sex feeling and cause those who patronise such shows to go out and do something about it elsewhere? I 703 do not think we know; but some years ago, when I made some derogatory remarks about strip-tease clubs which were quoted by the B.B.C., I received an anonymous letter from a man. He said that he was a widower of long standing and he could not live like a monk. He did not want to associate with prostitutes because, he said, it would set a bad example to his growing son. He found that if he visited a strip-tease club once a month, his sex feeling was satisfied and he did not want to do anything more about it. Is that common, or is it not common? We ought to know, and I should like to ask our psychologists—or should I say our psychiatrists?—to turn their attention to the actual effect on the middle-aged business men who attend these clubs between office hours and going home at about 6 o'clock in the evening, and who sit rapt until the final moment of the strip-tease.
§ VISCOUNT NORWICH
My Lords, if I may interject a word for a brief moment, may I say that there was something that the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, said which indicated that she might have misunderstood one of my remarks. When I was talking about London Transport advertisements, I was not complaining about nudity. Neither of the points I mentioned had anything to do with nudity. In my view, nothing beautiful can be pornographic; a beautiful nude for example. There was that young lady whose picture we saw on a full page of The Times the other day—by courtesy, so help us, of Fisons Fertilizers! In my view that was absolutely unobjectionable and beautiful. It is only when there is something basically ugly that I mind, and very seldom is that the case with a nude.
§ BARONESS STOCKS
My Lords, it is true that that advertisement, and others, are not basically ugly; but neither are the ladies who strip-tease—they are rather beautiful.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, this is an interesting point at which to intervene in the debate. I apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for the fact that, as I had a commitment with a Parliamentary Committee, I heard only a portion of his opening address. But I should like to say this. I yield to no one in my admiration for the noble Earl. In making that remark, may I say that 704 it is not designed to embarrass him, but because it has some relevance to what I am going to say. The noble Earl is a very unusual person; he is a good man, set on making a good and a better world. This, if I may say so, is not so common that we may ignore the phenomenon or fail to admire and respect it. But it may be that some one with, perhaps, rather fewer of the admirable qualities than he possesses could make a better assessment of the murky scene that the noble Earl surveyed.
My Lords, the noble Earl opened his remarks with the assertion—derived from the old debating society which we all used to attend—that pornography has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished. With the final tag of that admonition no one would disagree. Obviously, pornography ought to be diminished, if we can find means of diminishing it. That, by definition, cannot be anything but a good thing. But I venture to doubt whether pornography has increased to that extent, or whether it is increasing to the extent that the noble Earl envisages. I wonder whether his researches have not been altogether too specialised and rarified to arrive at a really true appraisal of the situation.
Of course, there are the strip tease clubs. In the immense preoccupations of my own life I have never had the fortunate opportunity of attending them. Perhaps, when I am relieved of certain public obligations, I can indulge my private pleasures more copiously. But strip tease clubs do exist; that is quite plain if you go to Soho to visit restaurants, as I do. But they do not seem to me to have proliferated. In fact, I am happy to say the restaurants have encroached on their territory in several areas, and a number of clubs have closed down. If you go to Soho to visit a particular restaurant you will now, my Lords, be privileged to observe that in places where there were erstwhile strip tease clubs there are respectable Italian or French restaurants. I venture to doubt whether there has been any great increase in strip tease clubs in that area, but I have not carried out a "Gallup poll".
In relation to the London theatre, some three years ago or a little longer, we engaged ourselves in what I thought was a rather splendid emancipation of the theatre from the thraldom of a censorship, which was not an onerous, or a 705 cruel, or an unintelligent censorship, but one which was bitterly resented by the dramatists We took a step forward in favour of liberty and tolerance. It was greatly appreciated, and I think it has been rewarded. I venture to think that I attend the London theatre as often as any Member of your Lordships' House. If I may say so, it is very rarely indeed that I encounter any Member of your Lordships' House there. I make this point, not to draw attention to my own virtue, but because of its relevance in relation to assessing the situation. I do not think the London theatre to-day is more obscene than it was. I do not think it is obscene. If an American visitor arrived in London to-day, and made a representative tour of the London theatres, I do not think that the quality that would particularly commend itself to him would be the obscenity of the theatre. I think it would be the splendour of some of the productions and the great quality of some of the acting. The fact that we have contrived to achieve one of the great theatres in the world, which is lauded loudly on all sides, is in part the product of the new atmosphere of tolerance and liberty. We must be very slow indeed before we take steps that may endanger those splendid qualities.
Where eke is this proliferation of pornography to he found? We are told about films. I see one Member of your Lordships' House who knows more about the cinema than anyone else—the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, who is Chairman of the Board of British Film Censors. I venture to say—and I invite contradiction from him—that in relation to the ordinary respectable cinema, the cinema to which people go and purchase their tickets at the box office without suffering possible embarrassment from being detected by their neighbours on entering, far from there being a deterioration in moral quality, the moral quality is in fact improving considerably. The films which are to-day attracting the public and creating large box office returns and substantial profits are films of simple morality— sometimes to a point which to some viewers is approaching the positively nauseating. The fact remains that these are moral films: films like Ryan's Daughter, The Railway Children, Melody and Love Story. I could retail them by the dozen, because I have some professional preoccupation with these matters.
706 These are not obscene films. There is not an increase in obscenity.
Of course people are sneaking through the Customs blue films made by poor deprived creatures for other deprived creatures because their instability and insecurity needs some assistance of this kind, and showing them in cellars in Soho. But can one say that this is a sufficiently important social phenomenon to exercise the attention of your Lordships for more than a second? The police and the Customs have ample powers to deal with this matter, if they are minded to do so. If they do not take steps to launch prosecutions, that is up to them. One of the difficulties they have to encounter is that prosecution in relation to these matters is one of appalling difficulty. It is not so much a matter of definition. Of course no human being—and certainly not 12 human beings, which makes them 12 times less effective than one—can possibly determine whether a particular piece of writing or literature is calculated to corrupt another human being. As a legal and social problem, this is insoluble. But this need not worry anyone acquainted with prosecutions in this area. Because what a jury does is not to sit down and discuss the fine points of the judge's direction to them. They say to themselves, "Is this a filthy piece of work?" And on the whole, having heard the admonitions addressed to them, they decide one way or the other. If the noble and learned Lord, the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Gardiner, was one of the distinguished defenders of a work, the work concerned would be almost certain of acquittal, because the jury would appreciate through seeing him that that very fact exonerated the work from any possibility of being tainted in any way. I urge upon the noble Earl to consider whether all this fuss is really worth while.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, may I say that I think the noble Lord is giving an account of the films to-day which would be regarded as quite ridiculous by a. large proportion of the educated population.
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, all I can say to that is that it is of course a comment which it is open to the noble. 707 Earl to make. I regard myself as a small, minor portion of the slightly educated population. I speak as the chairman of a film company and as someone who discusses freely matters connected with the cinema. I cannot think that the noble Earl's assessment is right. I think that there is an importation into this country of a considerable quantity of what might be called filth. This I do not regard as important. I think it is restricted to a few specialist clubs and cinemas and to my mind it does not have an effect upon our society worthy of this elaborate discussion.
May I say this to the noble Earl in all conviction? I do not believe that the young people of this country are any worse to-day than were the young people 20 or 30 years ago. I do not think that the cream of our youth are being tainted by pornography. I do not think that the flower of England are being tainted by pornography. I know that the young people who come into my own office as articled clerks are better than at any other time in my experience. The young people reading at the universities and going to the Bar have a shrewder assessment of the moral problem than I have ever encountered in my life. I believe that it would be profoundly discouraging to them if a message goes out from this House telling them that they are saturated in pornography; that their standards are bad and evil, and that they need to have special regard to the dangers confronting them. This, in my view, would be a very real danger.
I agree entirely with what the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said. This is a matter where we are living in a world of imperfect standards. I believe that there are more dangerous things than pornography. Greed, cruelty, avarice and many other things are greater dangers to our society than pornography. I am not sure that the best advice we give to our people is that everyone should stand on his own feet. I am not sure that any of these qualities are things that make for a better world; but I am sure that the moral danger confronting us at this second is not the danger of pornography.
I would particularly urge on the noble Earl one consideration. I hope that he will not set up a private investigatory committee. This would be a most unfor- 708 tunate conception. To suggest in such a delicate area as this that one set of human being should arrogate to themselves, without Governmental authority, the task of investigating another set of human beings, seems to me most unfortunate.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, is the noble Lord saying to us that to-day nobody is allowed to conduct an inquiry unless he has the Government or the Arts Council behind them?
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, I am saying no such thing. I am advising the noble Earl to consider whether it is wise to do so. I am a libertarian. I am totally in favour of tolerance. If the noble Earl sets up his committee, I shall take no steps at all to interfere with its work—I give him that assurance. But I think it would be extremely ill-advised for him to consider doing such a thing. These are, in my view, areas where the minimum of Government interference is desirable, and a total absence of private interference. I do not think that people should investigate what their neighbours are doing. I do not think that people should investigate what some unfortunate wretch is compelled to read because of some compulsion beyond his own understanding. I am absolutely convinced that things are not so bad as they are made out. I am absolutely convinced that unless we are very careful, if we allow this tide of feeling to sweep us forward in an atmosphere of relative unreason, things will be a good deal worse.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, I was once discussing the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland with a wise friend. He said to me that he did not like the Assembly in one way; that was that "when he did not speak he wished he had, and when he did speak he wished he had not." I should never forgive myself if I did not join my voice to that of the noble Earl in this Motion which he has put before the House. Whether I shall regret the speech I make remains to be seen.
But before I come to it I would like to cross swords, as it were, with the noble Lord who has just sat down, good man as I believe him to be, in more senses than one. I wish I could agree with him that pornography is not spreading. I do not go to the cinema myself; I smoke a 709 pipe, and I do not go to the cinema because everybody else smokes cigarettes. I hardly ever go to the theatre because I cannot afford it. But through my family I do have contacts with the young, and I am assured on all sides that, not in the theatre and not in the film, but in magazines and publications, and even in comic-like things handed out free to children with bags of sweets, pornography is increasing and has been increasing like a flood in the last few years. This is what I propose to address myself to more especially.
Naturally, like other noble Lords I find it mot distasteful to address myself to this whole subject. When the noble Earl asked me if I would speak I demurred, and said that I had a Committee upstairs. But the committee was cancelled. I then consulted my friends and relations. Some told me to keep out of it, but others urged me to speak. A friend, cousin, a grandmother with young grandchildren, I think owing to my hesitation, went into Prince's Street, Edinburgh, and purchased various magazines from reputable shops and gave them to me over the week-end. I read them, and I immediately decided to put my name down to speak. Quite frankly, I was alternately nauseated and driven to passionate fury at the contents of some of this stuff: fury at the promoters and publishers of it, whom I class with drug-pushers. Indeed, some of the articles that I read definitely linked the pornography, which they set out, with drugs.
I should like to assure your Lordships that I am not a prude. How could I be after serving in the Army, both as private soldier and officer; and then spending 30 years in an eastern seaport, having pottered around the Far East and Japan? But it gives me a sense of justification in expressing my views to your Lordships on this subject, which I believe to be as serious as the noble Earl has suggested.
In addition to this qualification, in our happy home we have brought up a number of children, and now there are grandchildren, of all of whom we have every right to be proud. Therefore I feel myself dedicated, and in some measure a champion, because it is the younger ones who are growing into this world which I have been persuaded in the last few days is in this respect a dangerous one. I 710 support the noble Earl's suggestion that something must be done. What is to be done remains to be seen. I believe that this debate will contribute in large measure to the deliberations of the Government as to what should be done. In my view, there should be no delay in curbing the accelerating and swift decline to decadence, of which history has shown that this particular matter is a symptom.
It is—or should I say, is it?—the inevitable consequence of the "couldn't care less" attitude. I have re-read the speech of my noble friend Lord Eccles in the debate on mass media, to which reference has already been made, and I should like to quote from it. He said:Psychologists, scientists, artists, priests in disarray and the modern thinkers have, of course, helped to speed up the process, but behind all the serious and the shallow propaganda a force more general and more profound must have been at work.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3/2/71, col. 1206.]What force is this? I think noble Lords are agreed that money, avarice and lust may be forces behind these developments. But is it promoted by the powers of anti-Christ? I believe there is every reason to suspect that it is. Some time ago, a definite link between international Communism and the distribution to adolescents of certain pornographic material was established by a specific case in Scotland of which I can give the noble Earl details, if he wishes.
Is this a sector in which the Government can institute inquiries, without creating a committee, through their ordinary ramifications? Perhaps they are already following up this matter. If they are, and if the noble Lord who is to reply feels disposed to tell us, I should be interested to hear the result. It is noticeable that Russia and China will not permit pornography in their own countries, presumably because they regard it as nationally dangerous at home. Lenin once said:Postpone operations until the moral disintegration of the enemy makes the delivery of the mortal blow both possible and easy.So much for the case, as I see it. I would add, confirming what other noble Lords have said, that T see some connection between the drift to decadence and the spread of violence, vandalism and venereal disease, just as much as sadism is accepted to be linked with lust.
711 My Lords, what is to be done? I believe that this debate will give some lead. The 1959 and 1964 Obscene Publications Acts have been mentioned, and I think there is no question that they should be strengthened as soon as possible. But what of the popular Press? Can they, and advertisers, who have already been mentioned, be brought to believe that much of what they publish, if not actually salacious, is deliberately titillating? Without suggesting that the tabloid Press promote pornography, I do not hold them blameless in the balance of their publications, in what they erroneously term "newspapers".
Talking of advertisers, may I take the issue of April 15 of Exchange and Mart. At page 83 there is advertisement upon advertisement for "blue" films. There is one here in column 3 headed "Variations". I do not propose to disgust your Lordships with it, but I shall hand it to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, at the end of my speech. Noble Lords may laugh, but I should like him to see the son of stuff that is available in the street to anybody. I remember how when I was a boy at school I always bought the Exchange and Mart for second-hand engines, bicycles, cameras and goodness knows what. Here it is, and the noble Lord will see it. I personally believe that this particular advertisement is in breach of the existing law. That leads me to my next point which is: Can the existing common law not be more rigidly applied?
To return to the responsible Press, I think the Sunday Telegraph got it about right in their leader on Sunday last, from which I should like to quote the last paragraph. They say:This is not old-fashioned. The art of loving is still the key to good sexual relations. The danger of sex education is that by concentrating on telling us how to be happy animals it reduces our chance of being happy humans.Incidentally, I am a little surprised that no noble Lord has mentioned seriously (I may have missed it but I have hardly missed a speech) the general trend towards marital infidelity and the neglect of pre-marital chastity. The noble Lord, Lord Platt, is to follow me in the debate. I do not know whether he has seen the publication from the B.M.A., 712 which is featured in the Press today, in which I gather there is an article which recommends some departure from what Christians regard as standards in terms of marital fidelity and pre-marital chastity.
This debate will doubtless receive substantial coverage in the Press, quite out of keeping with the reporting of more serious and perhaps more important proceedings in your Lordships' House on other occasions. Why is that? It is because this debate is in large measure sensational, as it should be and of course it has its element of salacity. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, mentioned, there are two excellent letters in The Times to-day, one from Mr. Stokes, to which she referred, and the other from the Dowager Lady Thurso. Nevertheless, The Times to-day gives 30-column inches to the noble Earl's "homework" but does not mention one single word of the fact that in this place last night a most interesting and important debate took place on Parish Records. That struck me as interesting. That latter debate was given ample coverage by the B.B.C., I have not mentioned television because, for one thing, I do not watch it enough. Being no prude, as I have said, I must confess that I enjoy—shall we say?—a measure of robust music-hall-type vulgarity. As I have said before, it is years since I have been to the cinema so I will not refer to that.
Pornography has always existed and will continue. To try to suppress it utterly is only to promote it. In saying this, I join with many other noble Lords who have spoken before me. Like prostitution, with which pornography has a definitive connection, the only solution is to see that it is swept and kept firmly under the carpet and not allowed to deprave our young people. In saying this I feel that I am echoing to some extent what the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, said in his suggestion with regard to controlling pornography so that it is not made accessible to the very young.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell (and I am sorry she is not in her place), said something about compulsion which worries me. She said that there is after all no compulsion in terms of this pornography. My three daughters are all married and we discuss these matters freely, and we have done so over the 713 weekend. Is the noble Baroness so sure about this? I am given to understand that the flood of pornography, and the consequent increase in promiscuity among the young, is snowballing and that young girls who are hardly adolescent, or at least disinterested in the sex act, find themselves left out of parties if they are unwilling to conform. My noble friend Lord Bethell touched on something of this nature. This is a subtle angle of compulsion in terms of the young, and the Pill has made the situation of such young girls more difficult.
I can sense noble Baronesses saying, "But what about the men?". The same applies to them in both directions: that the flood of pornography is titillating and that the relaxing of ordinary standards to which their parents had been accustomed makes their position rather difficult. My mind goes to the verse of Kipling in which the words come:Love at first sight was 'er trouble,She didn't know what it were,An' I wouldn't do such 'cos I liked her too much,But I learnt about women from 'er.I feel that one of the solutions is for all Christians to stand up and be Christians, and listening to the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Newcastle, reading Prayers yesterday, the immortal words from the 24th Psalm struck me as very applicable to this debate:He that hath clean hands and a pure heart… He shall receive the blessing of the Lord.The unfortunate thing is that the latter would appear not to be a universal aim.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ LORD PLATT
My Lords, I feel rhetorically somewhat inadequate in following so closely behind the noble Lord. Lord Goodman, and physically somewhat inadequate in sitting between my noble friend Lord Strange and the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. First, let me apologise for not having been in my place in the House for the first four opening speeches. This, unfortunately, I could not avoid because of an appointment which had been arranged a long time in advance. I apologise to your Lordships and, in particular to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for not being present. I promise I will read all these speeches with great interest in Hansard. I will among others, re-read the notable 714 speeches which we have had to-day from the noble Lord, Lord Bethell and the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge. These are only among many others that could equally be quoted. Because I knew that I could not get here at the appropriate time I did not put my name down to speak until rather late yesterday afternoon, when I suddenly decided that I was quite certain that I had something to say—whether it is something of which your Lordships will approve or not has yet to be known. To me it is something quite serious.
As there are many speakers still to come I want to be brief and I will come straight to the point and say, "What are we going to do about the Old Testament?" It contains some of the most lewd, obscene and cruel chapters to be read anywhere in literature. Certainly in all my reading—pornographic and otherwise—there is just nothing to come up to it. I apologise if the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has already discussed this in his opening speech, but so far as I know only the noble Baroness, Lady Lee, has so far referred to the Bible, which I gather she used to read covertly in church when she ought to have been reading the Prayer Book.
Of course the Bible is beautiful English. The New English Bible is still beautiful English; it is great literature; it is a work of immense and unique importance to historians, to serious students of comparative religion, to psychologists and sociologists. It contains passages which have moral and educational value. I do not dispute any of these facts. You may say: "It is not pornography"; but with what justification I would not know. As other noble Lords have no doubt done in the past 48 hours, I have looked up the definition of "pornography". I find:The expression of obscene or unchaste subjects in literature or art.I find:An obscene writing or pictorial illustration.I find:The treatment of obscene subjects in literature.You will note that the word "obscene" occurs in all these definitions. I looked up "obscene", and I found that it has to do with lewdness and indecency. I 715 am afraid I find all these things in the Old Testament.
Even so, I should not complain were it not for the fact that this obscene book is on sale in children's departments of bookshops, appears in school libraries, and even in the window of the Mothers' Union—which is not very far from your Lordships' House. It is given away as a school prize. Do those concerned with the spreading and selling of this book realise that it contains the story of David and Bathsheba, for instance? You will no doubt remember that he saw her bathing, and she was beautiful. And I quote from the New English Bible:… so he sent messengers to fetch her, and when she came to him, he had intercourse with her.Your Lordships will no doubt know she became pregnant and there were difficulties about her husband.
Do they know that this book also contains an account of how Moses, apparently under instructions of the Lord, rebuked the armed men who had killed all the Midians and spoke angrily to the officers, saying—and I quote from the New English Bible:Have you spared all the women? … Now kill every woman who has had intercourse with a man, but spare for yourselves every woman who has not had intercourse …".They took 32,000 such girls, of whom 32 seem to have been given to the priests as a sort of tax levied for the Lord. I therefore find it a little difficult to follow the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, whose sincere speech I greatly admired, when he said that lust had been regarded as a deadly sin throughout the ages.
As to cruelty, bloodshed and violence, there is no end to this in the Old Testament; but perhaps that is not pornography. At least the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, mentioned violence, as I think he should. But the description of howthey set up a tent for Absolom on the roof and he lay with his father's concubines"—I am quoting again from the New English Bible—in the sight of all IsraelI should have thought was possibly pornography.
716 If incest is pornography, are your Lordships aware of the story of Lot's daughters? You will remember that the elder one made her father drunk and then lay with him and persuaded her sister to do the same the next night. Both became pregnant, which apparently was a splendid thing for they bore sons and thus continued the race of Lot. And, of course, worst, and most loathsome and obscene of all, is in the Book of Judges in chapter XIX, where the wicked men of the town knock at the door of an old man and demand that he sends out his guest to them so that they can have intercourse with him. Perversions come in as well.No, my friends',says the old man.'Do nothing so wicked'."—I quote from the New English Bible—'This man is my guest; do not commit this outrage'"—High moral principle!Here is my daughter, a virgin; let me bring her out to you. Rape her and do to her what you please; but you shall not commit such an outrage against this man.' But the men were not satisfied so the guest took hold of his concubine and thrust her outside for them. They assaulted her and abused her and finally killed her, and her master cut up her body limb by limb into six pieces.These are stories of the Old Testament.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, I am not "sold" to the idea that there should be a committee of inquiry, either a governmental committee or a private committee. But I ask quite seriously, that if we are going to have such a committee on the subject of obscene literature to consider possible action, we should start by a very careful look at the New English Bible to see whether it is a fit and proper publication to be freely available to children in bookshops and in school libraries.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ LORD WILLIS
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has spoken of the great interest which has been shown in this debate and it is quite true that there has been a great deal of interest. It seems that it is necessary only to mention the word pornography to get half the nation quivering. It is rather important that we should study this interest to try to see how much of it is genuine, how 717 much of it is real interest and concern, and how much is either the product of frustration and bigotry or just the hope of titillation. I do not think the noble Earl should forget, or anybody should forget, that the News of the World claim to have the greatest newspaper circulation in the world, and their interest in what might loosely be called "irregular sexual behaviour" cannot I think be described as being one of deep concern.
Lord Longford also spoke of the large number of letters received, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell. I hope the noble Earl is not going to allow himself to be carried away by all this. Anyone who has appeared on a radio programme such as "Any Questions?" knows that there are entire brigades of maiden ladies, of both sexes, waiting with pen in hand to write in condemnation of any speaker who praises sex or in praise of any speaker who attacks it. The truth is that people go to an extraordinary amount of trouble to be shocked. It is rather like the story of the lady who complained to the police of the man who lived opposite who was undressing regularly every night in her full view; and she described how, by standing on her dressing table on top of three telephone directories, she got a clear view of him. There is one organisation of sabbatarians which even issued a draft letter of protest to its members so that they could react spontaneously on such occasions.
No, I think that if the noble Earl, Lord Longford, lifts back the stone too far he might find underneath it the birchers, the bring back the birchers, the death penalty boys, and all those others who have plagued us for so long. So it is important to keep a sense of proportion in this matter, and to make quite sure that if we decide that the frying pan is too hot we do not, by leaving it, fall into the fire. For the real truth in this matter is, surely, that we are all enemies of freedom—the pornographers and the restrictionists alike. What I think was missing from the approach of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, was a sense of perspective. Here, may I say how much I disagree with something the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said: that pornography was the product, or "the dirty child" I think he called it, of the permissive society.
718 We ought to remember what we have left behind; what we have just recently escaped from, though not entirely. Because the Victorian approach (and I use the word "Victorian" in its widest sense) was almost unique in recorded history in the way it screwed sex down like a coffin, made it a secret to be whispered in dark corners and a furtive, guilt-ridden fumble not to be spoken of in polite company. Sex was not regarded as a pleasure, nor a consummation of love between two equal human beings, but a nauseating practice which a woman endured through gritted teeth as a duty. Thomas Hardy once said that marriage was the price that men paid for sex and sex was the price women paid for marriage; and it was very true of the Victorian era. It was a relationship founded on ignorance. If we attack films about sex education to-day, let us remember the other side of the coin. Let us remember, as some noble Lords have said, that ignorance about sex has created more misery, more hardship, more pain and more human suffering than have all the sex education films ever made.
I remember many years ago, when I was researching for a series called "The Pattern of Marriage" for the British Broadcasting Corporation, one marriage counsellor told me of the kind of ignorance that was found even then—something like 12 or 15 years ago—among young people; and in particular of one young couple who had finally come to him in desperation because their knowledge of sex was so small, and they had been taught so little, that for something like a year the young man had been trying to enter his wife through her navel. The sheer amount of human misery that arises from ignorance has to be seen to be believed. The unhappiness that takes place between a million sheets really has to be corrected and has to be borne in mind when we talk about sex education.
But the Victorian period was the high noon of prudity and Grundyism, when practically anything to do with the human body was considered shameful and "flesh" was a dirty word. Even words lost their honesty and fell victim to prudery in those days, so one could not mention the word "breast": a breast-pin became a bosom-pin. Legs were never mentioned, only limbs, and later even that word became indecent so that a 719 school prospectus of 1849 read as follows:Young ladies are not allowed to cross their benders in class.They could not refer to legs or limbs. And a surgeon, when told by a young lady that she had hurt a limb, warned her very seriously never to say the word "limb" to him again or she would be passed over. When a woman got as bad as that, the sooner she died the better. It sounds incomprehensible now, but that was a hundred years ago, my Lords.
"Naked" was a perfectly good old English word, but it was well-nigh banned for about a hundred years, and then as recently as in the 'thirties our newspapers referred not to "nakedness" but to somebody being "unclothed" or "unclad". "Arse" was a very good Anglo-Saxon word; standard until the middle of the seventeenth century. Then, as prudery took over, a whole armoury of pseudonyms began to come in so that one could not mention this honest word "arse". We got instead, "hinterland", "dimmock", "Western end", "rump", "backside", "breech", "podex", "Turkish beauties", "white cliffs", "seat", "posterior", "derriere", "lower part of the thigh", "the lower back"—each one getting more and more feeble as we got nearer and nearer the twentieth century, until we finished up with such stupid inanities as "sit-me-down", "sit-upon", and "botty".
My Lords, that was the kind of absurdity to which puritanism reduced us, and for sheer obscenity it would be hard to better the great public discussion which took place in the Victorian period about methods of disciplining and inflicting pain on young children, or the damage done to young minds and bodies by the harsh punishments handed down for such things as masturbation—ranging from the actual use of straitjackets to deadly warnings about insanity, stunting of growth and even death. Compared to this sort of thing, my Lords, our Oh! Calcutta! is about as harmful as a vanilla ice cream cornet and twice as tasteful.
But there is another aspect. When you try to stifle a natural instinct or function you succeed more often than not in distorting it; you force it into secret, perverse paths or forms. You in fact 720 create the very evil that you are supposed to be fighting. So it was during the past century that prudery led directly to its opposite and the Victorian era was famous for its great flowering of pornography. It was the classic period; many of the most notorious so-called classics were published at that time.
My Lords, with great respect to the noble Lord, would he say that it was more notorious than the time of the Emperor Nero, which I do not think was particularly straitlaced or prudish about sex, and in some ways was more imaginative in inventing perversion?
§ LORD WILLIS
My Lords, I have less experience of the period of the Emperor Nero and I have read less literature about it. But certainly it is true that there was this great flowering of pornography during Victorian times. In fact there is quite a nice new gimmick to-day; many learned professors are earning themselves an honest penny by reissuing these pornographic novels but prefacing them with a learned analysis on the nature of pornography. You get about one paragraph of analysis to six pages of "porn". It is a new and interesting gimmick. But reading this stuff one finds that there is scarcely a vice which is not dealt with in painstaking and loving detail.
The hypocrisy was not confined to books, my Lords; there was practice as well as theory. There was, for example, as we know, a pretty thriving trade in child prostitution; children were procured for the pleasure of those who could afford to pay. Girls of 10 and upwards were actually purchased from poor families in the North and brought to houses in London (principally in St. John's Wood, I understand), where they were subjected to unimaginable barbarities and cruelties. William Stead, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette went to prison for daring to expose this trade, which involved some of the illustrious names in the land. That was at the end of the last century.
What the French have described as a peculiarly British vice, flagellation, flourished at this time. Hardly surprising. If you make sexual activity something shameful, people will seek to pursue it as a pain, not as a pleasure: they will punish their own gratification. Censorship produces an inevitable underground 721 movement. We are by no means free of Grundyism to-day but we have won a great deal more freedom in these matters, and I wonder really whether there is any noble Lord who seriously wants to go back to that time. It was inevitable (was it not?) that the dam would burst; and that is what we are seeing to-day. If the flood is strong and fierce, and worries some people, it is simply because the barriers in the past were so high.
My Lords, I want to state my own position quite plainly. I welcome the mainstream of this so-called sexual revolution. I welcome, and I should hope that any civilised person would welcome, any book, film, poem, play or painting which helps to extend man's knowledge of himself, of his mind and his body; which rejects hypocrisy in sexual matters as in other things, and which helps to restore sex to its full open, natural, unashamed place in human behaviour; and, moreover, helps to increase the pleasure and quality of sexual performance. That is one of the most vital of human activities, and the more we can increase the pleasure and quality of it, the better. That is where there is a slight contradiction, and I think the contradiction arises because we confuse pornography with erotic literature. There is a place—and a very strong place—for erotic literature, because if it stimulates and helps people to improve their love relationships there is absolutely no harm in it. But the other side, the pornographic literature, is an excess which I think most people would regret.
I find it difficult to follow (and here I may take issue with some of my noble friends) the double standards that are advanced by some people in this area. If a whole stream of literature were to appear advocating the whipping or beating up and humiliation of Jews or West Indians, there would be an outcry. Such publications would be attacked as Fascist and reactionary, and there would be a demand that the publishers be prosecuted under the Race Relations Act, or something of the sort. But when the same thing is advocated in the name of sexual pleasure, there is no such outcry. Books and magazines may advocate the most sadistic torture of men and women, the utter debasement of other human beings—nothing to do with love and little to do 722 with sex; yet any suggestion of criticism is branded as an assault on the freedom to publish.
My Lords, the essence of pornography, as distinct from erotic literature, in all its forms is sadism. This is the key word. Its roots lie in human degradation and the subjection and humiliation of one person by another. The whole approach of pornography seems to me to he antihuman, to have more in common with Fascism than the humanitarianism and Socialism in which I fervently believe. As George Steiner has pointed out, we do not live in a vacuum. Our recent history has been scarred by an explosion of mass sadism and a reversion to torture. For example, it is a common feature of pornographic literature and fantasy to hang naked children up on meat hooks, skewered like sides of beef. It gives perverted people pleasure to do this. The Nazis turned this fantasy into a reality, and further refined it by having the parents watch the butchery of their children. It is a common feature of pornography for a man or woman to be whipped and curbed like an animal; to be chained and humiliated as a slave. All this and more became a reality for millions under Hitler. It is still a reality, sadly, for many hundreds of thousands—if not millions—in various parts of the world. Looked at in this sense, pornography is practised; and it is a very sick joke indeed.
I believe, with many other noble Lords, that far too much can be made of this problem. But there are certain standards and values which have been handed down over thousands of years and probably have some importance—and, indeed, have become elevated to the level of taboos—and which are important to the preservation of human society. Take, for example, incest. There seems to me to be sound and good genetic reasons why mankind has had over thousands of years to build up a sort of taboo against sexual relationships between brothers and sisters, fathers and daughters, sons and mothers. But there are surely other reasons, too—reasons which have to do with the security, welfare and peace of mind of the children in a family unit. They cannot for ever be there, quivering under the fear of some assault from an elder brother or a father. Primitive society, for its own protection and for the security 723 of its children, had to set its face against incest. What started as a rule now has the force of a taboo. But pornographic literature, as distinct from erotic literature, flies in the face of all this and would destroy it. I do not want to sound too solemn or portentous, but I believe that this sort of propaganda is a threat to a civilised society; it is every bit as dangerous as anti-semitism or bigotry; and society has not only a right but a duty to protect itself against that sort of thing.
But how widespread and how deep is it? I agree with other noble Lords in this debate who have said that at the present time it is just a minor eruption, an excess which is an inevitable part of the great release after the Victorian period. I believe that the pendulum has swung perhaps a little too far, but it will swing back the other way; and I certainly agree that there should be no further restriction, which would only take us backward in time. We have of course to protect ourselves, and surely the best protection is the self-responsibility and self-censorship of our writers and directors, our promoters and producers. People of this sort, who have a sense of responsibility, ought perhaps to develop it more. Certainly I feel that in films there could be a greater vigilance and a greater consideration of some of the harm that is being done by these so-called "flick films." I believe that television has a relatively clear record in many respects, though perhaps not in the area of sadism and violence.
But I do not believe that we are being flooded by a great wave of pornography that an entire young generation is being corrupted, and that we are on the verge of collapse. All that, I believe, is nonsense, and I would say how much I agree with other noble Lords who say that this is something of a red herring and that we ought to be concentrating on much more serious problems. I regard it as obscene that we should have nearly one million unemployed. I think it is obscene for a great Church—and I say this in all sincerity—to take the attitude that it will not allow anybody to use birth control. The misery that that causes seems to me to surpass to the utmost degree any misery caused by pornography.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, when the noble Lord says it is obscene, I take it that he means he does not like that policy.
§ LORD WILLIS
My Lords, I mean that it is obscene in the terms of human poverty, hardship, suffering. If one goes into some of the poorer areas of this world ruled over by that particular Church and its teaching, one will see what I mean by obscenity in terms of hunger and starvation, let alone what it does in terms of future world population.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, the noble Lord is using the word "obscene" merely as a term of abuse.
§ LORD WILLIS
My Lords, I am using the word "obscene" in the same way that the noble Earl used it in his introduction to the debate, when he described in great sweeping words things like "dirt" and "filth" without specifying it more accurately. I think that poverty is obscene, and if the noble Lord looks up the definition of "obscene" he will see that it has a very real and clear and precise meaning.
I hope that there will not be any private, public or Government inquiry. I think we have heard enough of this. The noble Earl was quite right to put the subject on the agenda for debate, since he feels so strongly about it. But I hope, as I said earlier when he was not in his place, that he will not lift the stone of those letters he received too high, or he will find himself in bed with some very strange bedfellows, as we all know. I hope that this debate has cleared the air a little, and that we can now get down to what this Parliament is here for—much more serious subjects.
§ LORD PLATT
My Lords, before the noble Lord finishes, perhaps I might help to clear up a little difficulty. I did look up the word "obscene" in three dictionaries this morning, and although its usual meaning is certainly lewd and indecent in a sexual sense, it is also apparently permissible to use it for what is loathesome and filthy.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT INGLEBY
My Lords, I regret that I cannot share the views of the last speaker. On this subject, one can speak, I think, only from one's own 725 experience, and I know what effect this pornographic stuff has on me personally. I know that it drags me down; I know that it pulls my whole personality down; I know that it saps my moral strength and leaves me feeling in a sort of vacuum. I cannot believe that I am alone in my reactions to it; and if this is so, and if this is a widespread reaction to it, I should have thought that the pushers of pornography ought not to be treated in any different way from the pushers of drugs.
What is the answer to all this? As the noble Lord, Lord Willis, said, all this goes on in the heart of man, and if we can get things right in our own hearts that is obviously the place to do it. So I suggest that we need to get sex back into its rightful place. I believe that sex is meant to be used and enjoyed creatively, between lifelong partners, as God intended it to be; and if we get back to that we shall have a new respect for it and a new reverence for it. I would finish simply by asking whether what in fact we need in this age is not a new spirit of chivalry.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, when in the early 'thirties I was a young undergraduate, myself and a couple of other objectionable young men, in response to a small advertisement in the back pages of some then rather daring magazine, sent away for two tomes which I think were called Encyclopœdia of Sexual Knowledge. Having read, learned and inwardly digested, we then, when nobody, we thought, was looking, dedicated it to the college library—a college of which later on my noble friend Lord Roberthall was head—in the name of the young undergraduate who we considered was the most prudish goody-goody of the time. I am not proud of that episode in my life, but I quote the story because I hope later on to make one or two points about it.
Having gone through that period of my life, I became a rude and licentious soldier of the traditional sort. All those who were in or passed through Egypt in the pre-war days must have experienced the exhibitions and all the things of that sort which in those days were looked on (and this has been mentioned before to-day) as the pre 726 rogatives of lesser developed, less highly moral countries. I mention these facts of my misspent youth because I want to make a first point, which is that you cannot shock the likes of us, even though one or two speakers who do not agree with what the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has said or aimed for to-day have tried to accuse us of being easily shockable. That is not on the cards.
Secondly, when we, as undergraduates, sent away for that particular book under plain cover, which would now, of course, be offered to everybody on a plate, we did it with a sense of being naughty. Many of the so-called taboos which have been so attacked by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, had perhaps that effect. But the point that I should like to make is that nowadays, with everything handed to you on a plate, you cannot get any fun out of doing any of the other things. A doctor was recently reported in The Times as saying that the equivalent now of what before the war was looked upon as a somewhat innocent flirtatious kiss is getting into bed with a girl friend. Apart from the regret of any missed opportunities of my younger days, I must say that I am more than sorry for the young of that society to whom the doctor was referring.
Where do they go now for "kicks"? The first thing is to go for perversions, if you cannot get your kicks out of ordinary sex life; the next thing after perversions is to go for drugs. Nowadays the Press, the television, the theatre, all encourage us to cast aside any inhibitions; and there has been a terrific attack by some noble Lords this afternoon on anyone who is supposed to have inhibitions. The point I would make is that if you have no inhibitions you get no fun out of the normal way of behaviour. If it is just too easy, then you will go for something worse; and I think that is, to a large extent, why the moronic members of society have gone so far recently for drugs. This has all happened before our eyes in recent years, and I think our so-called "liberal" thinkers are the root cause of the trouble.
The main fault of the Sexual Offences Bill of the noble Earl, Lord Arran, was not what it set out to achieve but the effect it seemed to have, or the impression it gave, to the uneducated, the uninitiated and the graffiti-culture type individuals 727 in our society. It could be illustrated by a story which was going around Melbourne at the time. A young graduate had a post-graduate scholarship to London University for two years, and before he left all his friends gave him a great send-off. They said, "We shan't be seeing George for a couple of years." To their utter surprise, within a couple of months there was George back in Melbourne. They said, "Good heavens!, you must have blotted your copybook. What have you done? ". He said, "Nothing; but the week after I arrived in England they made homosexuality legal, and I thought I had better get back before they made it compulsory". That is the sort of impression which is created by the permissive society. When that Bill was going through your Lordships' House great play was made about freedom to do this, that and the other thing in private. But is it private? Measures of this sort are passed and there is this freedom. To see the outcome one need only to have watched B.B.C. last Monday. There was no sense of privacy in the arrogance of the young homosexual who was stating the case for his kind.
I do not think anybody sees any harm in nudity, as such, in Heloise and Abelard; but what really got me was to see the effect of Hair on a middle-aged woman in the row behind me. It was pathetic. If we have people in the population who are, shall we say, underdeveloped, then they need protection, not encouragement to behave in such a pathetic manner. I did not go to see Oh! Calcutta, but it seems to me to be going a little too far to have simulated masturbation on stage. Now we read that in the recent film you have a schoolteacher actually performing that action in the nude in order to teach children. I find that such a revolt from the so-called hypocritical Victorian era as to make speeches like that of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, completely unintelligible. Our so-called liberal educators really have gone too far. In the local teachers' training college a lecture was delivered by a very earnest individual, who propounded the theory that if you threw a red plastic ball into a pool containing hippopotami they would start copulating. 728 What on earth can that possibly have to do with the education of children?
I am worried about the effect of pornography on the lower I.Q. members of the population. The educated people can cope with these things; but the people who need protection are, I think, those who are suffering most from this lack of control. One would like to know what statistics the Government have on the effect of all this propaganda on people of low I.Q. We have recently had in Cornwall a very nasty sex murder. I wonder whether there is a connection that can be proved? We have heard what is said about Denmark; but I think most of the population will ask that question again and again.
My biggest hate is towards those purveyors of pornography who get at the young. In our youth we had to go to a bit of trouble if we wanted to find out a bit more; we had to get our kicks by getting our books under plain cover. Now it is all handed out to our youth. This was particularly borne out to me a couple of years ago when I was fetching my 12-year old daughter home from school, and I said, "Go and get something to read on the train." I then went and looked over part of the bookstall at Paddington Station, and there was an area, about two yards by one yard, full from A to Z of the most blatant results of our uncensored age. The Lord knows that we have a long enough period before we reach the so-called peace that old age brings, and why should we try to cut short the few years of innocence that we have? We prohibit the serving of alcohol to the young; we have laws to try to protect them from drugs; we have propaganda to try to protect them from tobacco. I see no lack of essential freedoms if we can try to protect the innocent in the younger years of their lives. I do not go along at all with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, or, for that matter, with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman.
My second hate is towards the intellectual snobs who see it as their role in life to upset all heretofore held standards of right and wrong—those producers and actresses who will scream historical inexactitudes to suit their political purposes, and then boast to all the world of their illegitimate children. It has 729 always seemed to me a complete non sequitur that those who would politically regiment society by the rules of extreme socialism are the loudest in protest against any form of protection of the young and mentally unprepared from the uncensored, insidious, money-grabbing pornographers of to-day. If our civilisation has thrown off the ethics of Christianity we must control the forces of evil by other means, even though that means censorship, or meet the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.
§ 7.20 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to preface the few things I want to say on this subject with a brief fragment of autobiography. The first time I had the honour of addressing your Lordships' House (except in a maiden speech wizen the right reverend Prelate who had lo follow had to find something nice to say, and the best he could do was to compare it with a ramble down an English country lane as represented in a variety show at the Holborn Empire) was when I tried to make a serious contribution on the subject of persons considered too old to receive an old-age pension. On that occasion I incurred a debt to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who I am relieved to see is in his seat. That I have never forgotten, and he made me his servant for life.
In order to read a quotation from the New Statesman and Nation I was about to say that if the proudest title of the Pope was Ole Servant of the Servant of God, the New Statesman sometimes could be accused of assuming the role of the Governess of the Government of Nations. Before I could produce this rather laboured epigram the noble Earl got to his feet to defend the New Statesman, which, incidentally, had been attacking him vitriolically the week before. I was so paralysed that I stood rooted to the ground; and he said, without a touch of reproach, "I think something has gone wrong; we ought not both to be standing up at the same time. One of us ought to sit down, it does not matter which". If he feels the same thing to-night I hope he will repeat those words. The only reason I mention this is that I believed then, and I believe now, that one can often be embarrassed by one's allies. I did not agree with much 730 of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Willis; but I agree that the News of the World of last Sunday was an embarrassing ally, although it fully supports Lord Longford's objectives.
In order to make my own position quite clear, I should like to say that I am in agreement with what the noble Earl is trying to do, not 100 per cent. or 200 per cent., but 300 per cent. As to the actual methods by which he is going to try to do it, we shall doubless be discussing those later on. In the meantime, I should like to make a few points about the danger, as I see it, of pornography. The first is that the only word I quarrel with in the Motion is "incipient". As many of your Lordships have said, this is a very old danger. I understand that it concerns the oldest profession in the world, apart from gardening, which is something that one man can carry on alone on a desert island. For prostitution or anything pornographic you must have more than one person. "Publication" is essential.
There have been attempts at definition and I snail not attempt any; but I think that two things are implicit. One is that it must be something that is "calculated" to give offence; there one has to face a difficulty, as "calculated" in English does not mean "deliberately intended". I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, who said you might avoid seeing the posters in the Underground if you had a chauffeur-driven car. Even then one cannot always avoid embarrassment. One of the nicest men I knew, who was chauffeur to my parents, always referred to Nelson's Column, which he very much respected, as "that Nelson testicle", a word which he confused with "pedestal". Clearly there was no offence intended. It was, you may say, not lack of sex education, but of education.
I heard something similar from two highly intelligent and educated people this week when discussing what must have been a chess problem. One said in rather a loud voice, "What about this move, Bishop takes Queen's pawn?" There was what is called a "breathless hush" in the public house, and then, with the courtesy common in such places, people went on talking. Things can be misunderstood. But where the intention is to make money or to give offence—and a lot of pornography goes on that is not 731 for money—I believe that some legal sanctions should be provided.
On this point I think many of your Lordships have been unduly pessimistic. As the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, pointed out, we do not apply the attitude to drugs or even to drinking outside certain specified hours which has been voiced here to-night by so many speakers. That is a point on which I find myself differing from most of the noble Lords who have spoken, as it were, on the other side. I do not know whether or not it is a good thing to he shocked. As always in this House, there is an interesting difference of opinion. The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, said that people are more easily shocked as they get older, and that it does them no credit. The noble Baroness, Lady Lee, said that she thought that people were more easily shocked when they were young, and that it is greatly to the credit of the young that they were shocked. Which is right I do not know. I once suggested to the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, that she and I were the only two persons in the House capable of being shocked by an Anglican Bishop. (Nobody could have been shocked by the speech we heard from the right reverend Prelate today.)
I have not seen the film which has been mentioned, but I have been sharply shocked by something said by Dr. Martin Cole. I may be wrong and I should like the opinion later on of other persons about this. I was not shocked, because not surprised by his rather airy answer to somebody who asked him how much money he was making out of his abortion clinic in Birmingham at which he works hard, and which has offered abortion on "H.P.". He said "I am not a millionaire." Whether he makes millions or thousands does not make much difference. Clearly it would be quite uncharitable to say that he does it for money—in the sense of exclusively for money. But what he said, which alarmed me, was that his intentions in sex education are perfectly good: they are "to take the sham and guilt out of sex." My Lords, that rocked me back so much that I thought possible "sham" was a misprint for "shame", which is more like guilt, though not of course the same thing. For instance, I could feel a certain amount of shame if I found myself addressing your Lordships' House without my 732 trousers. I should feel guilt only if it was through my own oversight, not if they had been forcibly removed. In a future society perhaps they will be. But in fact I do not believe it was a misprint for shame. I think it did say, "Take the sham and guilt out of sex," which indeed all of us would like to do.
The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, mentioned conscience, which is said to "make cowards of us all". I may he more cowardly than most, but if I went myself—not if I sent my son or daughter but if I went myself—to a doctor and he said, "No cause for alarm. All I am going to ask in this experimental preliminary session is whether I may remove your trousers and your tumours"—I should wonder whether I had come to the right man. I am all for removing trousers in a doctor's surgery. I am also all for removing tumours, whether they are real or imaginary—in a rather different way, but not quite so easily as the former. I may he cowardly. I know that in the early 18th century there probably were Members of your Lordships' House who were quite willing to have their gaiters and their gallstones removed by a surgeon, without an anæsthetic, and to go on talking happily. But the fact is that they are two very different things. One is something that is put on over your body to conceal things. The other is something which can be taken out only by a properly qualified person.
Anyone who thinks that we can take all the guilt out of sex, including all the sexual perversions, in the same way that you remove the sham and hypocrisy by taking the frills from the Victorian pianos of the noble Lord, Lord Willis—which I must say I have always longed to see—is taking too simple an approach. That is an accusation which has been made against the noble Earl—of thinking it is all too easy to put matters right by Act of Parliament. I do not think it is easy. The noble Earl wants to reduce or discourage one particular form of sin. We have been told that it is not the most serious sin, or the only sin, so it is not worth doing anything about it, and that, anyway, you will not be able to enforce legislation. People do not say that because you cannot abolish drugs, abolish murder or abolish theft, it is no good trying to reduce them. I believe that that is a very dangerous attitude to take.
733 My third point is that I cannot accept the idea that, simply by uncovering everything and getting more and more freedom in the permissive—whatever you like to call it—society, you will abolish all these horrors and perversions. I asked the noble Lord, Lord Willis, who called for a sense of perspective, whether he thought that Nero's Rome, where there was considerable permissiveness, was necessarily a great deal better than Victorian England. I do not think it was. But every generation has its own particular difficulties, and the great danger is to think that, because something is progressing in a certain way, it will go on progressing automatically; that because the days are getting lighter from January to April, they will go on getting lighter from July to October. I think that there is often a line to be drawn.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stocks—and I agreed with almost everything she said in her speech—read a quotation from Browning—I think with great effect. With your Lordships' permission, I should like to read a quotation from the same poem, which I think is relevant to this question of how far a progressive movement should go. It is a poem called "Bishop Blougram's Apology". He was an imaginary Catholic bishop, and a not very admirable one, but he had much to say that is worth hearing. He said to the young man whom he was bullying over the dinner table:Do you know, I have often had a dreamOf Man's poor spirit in its progress, stillLosing true life for ever and a dayThrough ever trying to be and ever being—In the evolution of successive spheres—Before its actual sphere and place of life,Halfway into the next, which having reached,It shoots with corresponding fooleryHalfway into the next still, on and off!As when a traveller, bound from North to South,Scouts fur in Russia: what's its use in France?In France spurns flannel: where's its need in Spain?In Spain drops cloth, too cumbrous for Algiers!Linen goes next, and last the skin itself,A superfluity at Timbuctoo.When, through his journey, was the fool at ease?I think that a line has to he drawn somewhere, and it should come before we actually lose our skins. It should certainly begin when we work together these very different things like the sham 734 and guilt which throughout history have been a part of sex, and which certainly need to be treated with great sympathy; but we must not think that we can eliminate them by abolishing all restrictions whatsoever.
At this stage of the evening, I do not think there is any advantage in saying more. There are a number of fallacies which have been put forward in this debate, but I have probably said enough to make my point of view clear, which is that if the noble Earl has his committee and introduces a Bill I am pretty sure which side of the House I shall be on.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ LORD MAELOR
My Lords, I intend to be on my feet for only two or three minutes, but I felt that I could not listen to this debate without giving my practical support to my noble friend Lord Longford. Though I hesitated to speak, I felt compelled to do so when, only this morning, I received a letter from an unknown lady in Caernarvon—written in Welsh of course; your Lordships would not expect an English letter from Caernarvon. I desire to read what she wrote:I understand that Lord Longford will be introducing a Motion in the House on Wednesday protesting against the pornography which is blowing over the country and through society from every direction. As one of the thousands who are grieved because of the terrible evil influence which this has on our youngsters—and that unconsciously—I beg of you to appeal to your fellow Members to support the Motion. Having heard you speak on many occasions, I know full well that there is no need for me to ask for your support.I do not know who the lady is, but apparently she knows me. How could I remain seated after reading that letter?
We all recognise the sincerity of my noble friend Lord Longford in relation to moral issues, and his deep religious convictions. Perhaps I should state that in matters of religion he and I are poles apart. He is a Roman Catholic and I am a rabid Scotch Baptist. As a Welshman, I should perhaps explain what a Scotch Baptist is, because, strangely enough, there are no Scotch Baptists in Scotland—not one. 'There are Baptists there, but the small denomination known as Scotch Baptists and founded by a Scotsman is to be found only in North Wales. This small denomination claims 735 to be the very antithesis of the Roman Catholic Church, but I am to say that on this issue we are certainly united. Let brotherly love continue! Indeed, I am sure that all religious denominations will lend their wholehearted support to Lord Longford and his efforts.
My Lords, I must congratulate the noble Earl on the timing of this debate, because I believe that the vast majority of us were profoundly shocked the other day when we learned of the proposal to show a film, Growing Up, in our schools—and I intend to deal exclusively with that issue. We were shocked to know that it was a young married teacher, of ail people, who had taken part in the film, appearing naked and actually masturbating. Apart from anything else, I think it is an insult to the teaching profession as such. As an ex-school teacher myself, I am always jealous to safeguard the absolute freedom of the members of the teaching profession. The school teacher must be as free as any other citizen, and his or her way of living must not be ordered by any education committee. I call it a noble profession, but it will cease to be noble if it tolerates and encourages ignoble acts by its members—and I am sure that the part played by the Birmingham teacher is anything but noble.
I am glad to note one fact in her favour. Apparently this lady took part in the film two years ago, when she was not a school teacher. I have a feeling that she would not have taken part in the film had she been a teacher then. She would have realised, I am sure, that her action was not in keeping with the teaching profession. I believe that the Birmingham Education Committee has acted honourably in suspending her with full pay until the members of the committee have seen the film for themselves. I saw in the Evening Standard last night that this lady had said, "I am just waiting to find out what happens. This is the first day I have had to sit down and think about what I am going to do." She would be well advised to say to the education committee, "I was a free person to do as I liked two years ago, but as a teacher of young girls I would certainly hesitate to-day to take part in the film." If she expresses herself in that way, then it is to be hoped that the 736 Birmingham Education Committee will readily withdraw the suspension and forget the whole affair.
I believe, further, that the producer of the film, Dr. Martin Cole, should receive our most vehement censure. Who does this man think he is? I understand that he is a lecturer in genetics at Aston University, Birmingham. According to the Daily Telegraph, the film cost about £3,000, some of the money coming indirectly from £60 abortions performed at Dr. Cole's nursing home in Birmingham. He may be an expert on abortions, but who is he to tell the head teachers of our schools what and how to teach the children about sex? Sir Gerald Nabarro called him, to his face, an immoral man. I shall deal with him more lightly and not take advantage of my privileged position, as a Member of this House, relating to the law of libel, in case I appear to bully—and I do not want to bully even this man. I would say to him, however, "Mind your own business, and leave the job of teaching to the head teachers and their staffs."
Now comes the question of showing this film in the schools. I would appeal to the Minister of Education, Mrs. Thatcher, immediately to issue a circular on this subject to all the education authorities. Mrs. Thatcher is the mother of lovely children. I have seen them and spoken to them. I would ask Mrs. Thatcher this question: would you like your own children to see this film? If the answer is "No", then I would appeal to her to protect other children. I was glad to hear Lord Eccles declare earlier that Mrs. Thatcher would be speaking in the other place this evening and would be dealing with this particular subject.
Lastly, I would say that I speak in your Lordships' House as a Welshman. It is usually presumptuous for any man to declare that he speaks for the whole of Wales, but I can assure my noble friend Lord Longford and all noble Lords that his Motion in all its aspects will be supported throughout the Principality.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I say one sentence in defence of Dr. Martin Cole, whom I myself criticised in my speech for being tactless? He did not make this film from the proceeds of his 737 abortion clinic. He helps girls who pay nothing. I read that myself. He may be ham-handed; he may be tactless. But he is an innovator, and there must be something to be said for innovators in this field, particularly after we have heard speakers in the debate this evening.
§ LORD MAELOR
Of course, my Lords, I am only quoting the Press. I do not know the man; I had never heard of him before. But anybody who read the Daily Mirror yesterday—and I think that is a paper of repute—will have seen that they were quoting the Daily Telegraph and actually gave the figures that I gave. But I accept very readily the explanation that Lady Gaitskell has given.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ LORD STRANGE
My Lords, I am sorry; I have just been speaking at a Rotary dinner. My Lords, before I start this speech I must declare that I live in a hut fairly high up on a mountain; I do not ever see television, and the papers are so stale by the time we manage to bring them up that I hardly ever read them. So when I go over to England I feel that I am in a foreign country. It all comes out in the overt communication—filthy pictures, "I have a beautiful sister", blue lamps, red lamps, murders with rape, murders without rape and so on and so forth. I understand how people can be very confused as to what is pornography and what is pornographic. I can understand the returning tourist who is asked, "Have you got any pornographic records?" saying "I could not have; I have not got a porno-graph to play them on".
The first point I would make is: is it pornographic? If it stirs up automatic people, then it is pornographic. That is my first point. By "automatic people", I mean this increasing number of people who do not recognise their animal instincts, who do not want to recognise them, who do not know anything about themselves at all. They are sleepwalkers easily roused to violence. They are the 738 people that we must not stir up, whether it is by pornography or in any other way.
The next point I would make, my Lords, is this. If it is comic, if it is funny, if it makes you laugh, it is not pornographic. Men have always told dirty stories to each other and roared with laughter at them. That hits sex; it no longer has a sting if you laugh at it. Everybody here, of course, always speaks about sex, but there are many other animal instincts. If it is comic, there is no sting in it. If you laugh at any animal instinct—and I could give lots of cases, having started my Rotary Club dinner speech—then there is no sting.
If it is artistic, it is not pornography. But it is very difficult to say what is art and what is not art. I would say, thinking of the Victorians who used to fig leaf all their statues, that that was not pornography. I would say that it was suggestive and I would describe it as vulgar. I think that the girls and men on the beach who fig leaf their bodies are vulgar. They have pleasant bodies, bodies 'that are nice to look at; they could lie on the beach undressed and after a while nobody would look very much. I would also say, having been to the Finnish bath in my club, that most men—and a great number of women—look much better when dressed. In less than twenty years everybody will roar with laughter at the fig-leafing that the girls do now. They will laugh as much as people laugh now at the Victorian ladies in their bathing carriages, who, heavily dressed, came out of the sea with far more clothes on than when they went in. There is surely a happy medium in bathing.
On the question of stimulating dances, I am on very much surer ground as to what is artistic and what is not. I do not suppose—although I may be wrong—that many of your Lordships have seen the lek, the black grouse. The lek which I have seen as a young boy is a wonderful thing. These black grouse have mock fights in their breeding plumage and they look beautiful. Finally, they stand unmoving and the hen comes out and walks up to each one of them and they show themselves off before the hen—in the same way that your Lordships know that men show themselves off before women. Finally, the hen chooses 739 a mate and gracefully lies down. That is very beautiful. I would say that that is not pornographic. I would say that the opposite number—well, Offenbach's "Can-can"—is very gay, very light-hearted and brisk. It is stimulating but it is not pornographic. It is art, and very pleasant.
My Lords, I think I have said enough about sex. We have been talking about sex all of to-day. I do not think—and I feel sure that nobody thinks it—that sex is our greatest, strongest animal instinct. I think that fighting for one's own territory is our strongest instinct. I have known very many people killed in war; I have never known anybody killed fighting for a woman. There are many other instincts which stir up and affect the automatic people. I need hardly mention the instinct which manifests itself in certain herds which kill off their diseased and weak members. There are probably genetic reasons for this. There may be other reasons; but certainly there is a purpose to it. It was a translation into English of the Marquis de Sade's reminiscences which inspired the Moor murders, one of the most horrible crimes ever committed in this country. That, I think, is a case where a book should have been suppressed, not because of the book itself (for who would want to read it?—it is horrible) but because it actually inspired a crime.
I will reiterate one or two points before I finish. The most terrifying thing in the world to-day is the "automatic people". You cannot do anything with them; they are not mad, they are just automatic; anything sets them off and, whatever it is, they get stirred up, they get fighting mad, they get sex mad. We should do our best to ensure that no child in this country ever becomes an "automatic". Let them get to know themselves, to know what ticks, to know why all this sex, why all this and why all that. The noble Lord, in his charming Welsh voice, mentioned much of what had appeared in the newspapers. I do not know much about that. The papers have their own way of doing things. I am not taking sides. I am not arguing with the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, about it.
As your Lordships know, when chicks are chirping in the egg and when the 740 hen, scratching about, sees something like a hawk or crow or magpie she gives the danger signal and the "children" stop chirping in the egg. I think that these maternal instincts—they may be animal but they are very nice animal instincts—are carried on. I think that we have selected the best of these instincts in what we know as love, romance, faithfulness to one's children, looking after one's children; and I think that with a few exceptional cases mothers know when their children want sex instruction and they will give it to them in the right way—and this applies to most mothers—and at the right time. I do not think that it is right to start at the end by showing them when the grey hen sits down in front of the cock. They should first start their sex education with knowing all the wonderful kinds of bird behaviour, how they make their nests, how they make sacrifices for each other. It is cheating to start at the end and not to put in the rest.
My Lords, the last thing I would say is that I was in the Windward Isles on a banana boat and I got to know where all the floozy pubs were and I got to know the lounge lizards. I asked a taxi driver to take me to a "toughish joint" to see what the natives were like. I had some beer and I talked to a few people. I saw on the wall a notice, and I have it written here on the matchbox on which I wrote it then. It said:Lord help us against ourselves.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ LORD ARDWICK
, My Lords, for the first time in my life I am sorry not to be a Rotarian. I am sure that if we were all present at the dinner party which the noble Lord is to address to-night we should have a very happy time. I am also sure that we are all grateful to the noble Earl, not only for introducing this debate but also for the assiduity with which he has done his research. I see him in good faith like a modern Gladstone marching sturdily through the dark halls of vice because he realises that it is not only essential to be earnest but also necessary to be "Frank".
It is obvious that quite a few of us here are rather disturbed by this present situation. Many of us grew up in an age of reticence. The cinema in those days was under most strict control. The 741 strong, silent heroes showed courtly restraint in their wooing of chaste heroines, and when at the end their lips met in a kiss as pure as it was passionate, the hero's horse would coyly turn its head away. The popular novel stopped before the bedroom door. Yet the author of one serial could still be reproved by a reader for leaving the heroine late at night in her lover's house and in the next instalment describing them at breakfast together. The innuendo, the reader complained, was obvious and disgusting. The author wrote back, "I cannot be responsible for what characters do between instalments."
In those days in the popular novels, sexual passion was often portrayed by asterisks. As Stoddard King, an unknown poet, wrote 40 years ago:A writer owned an Asterisk and kept it in his denWhere he wrote his tales (which had large sales) of frail and erring men.And always when he reached the point where carping censors lurkHe called upon the Asterisk to do his dirty work.My Lords, the asterisk has gone, and in the cinema a romance ending with a chaste kiss can now begin with a post-coital caress. But in the age of reticence we have I think to remember that there was a brisk trade in written pornography, in the obscene drawing and the dirty postcard. The upper classes, the only ones who travelled abroad, smuggled their unexpurgated Tauchnitz editions through the Customs and lent them around when they got home.
Pornography was not invented, as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, seemed to suggest, in the permissive age. If it is not as old as man, it is at least as old as society; and I think we ought to take comfort from that. I wonder whether the noble Viscount has ever, for example, seen the wall paintings at Pompeii; or whether he has asked his friends at the British Museum to show him what they have in their collection of erotica. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Clark, could make a television series of programmes on erotica throughout the ages as long as his series on civilisation. So I think that we must refrain from blaming modern permissiveness for pornography. We are in the throes of a sexual revolution; it will be completed, and it will, I think, endure.
742 It seems to me that the stage we are at is this. A vast number of people, particularly young people (I know that this will pain the noble Earl, as a sincere and orthodox Christian) no longer believe that all fornication is sin. They no longer think that sexual feelings are bad feelings which must be prayed away on one's knees, or played away on the cricket field, or washed away in an icy shower. They regard them as pleasant feelings which may be enjoyed without shame or remorse, and they need not always lead to sexual action. For many people, not only have the religious restraints gone, but the social restraints also are disappearing. I think that our medical Members would agree that even now contraceptives and abortifacients are still in their scientific infancy.
But, my Lords, centuries of puritanism, puritan teaching, and prudery, cannot so easily be cast off. The prisoner can still feel the weight of his fetters, years after his release. And so to-day vast numbers of people seem to need constant reassurance that sexual feelings are not sinful feelings. That is why—I speak here as a professional journalist—there is such a large market for newspaper and magazine articles which, in the jargon of the trade, claim to deal frankly with sexual problems. The fact that many of these articles are tedious and repetitious does nothing to detract from them. It is not information which the readers are primarily seeking; it is simply reassurance that their feelings and desires are normal and healthy, and not illicit.
So far, the results of the sexual revolution seem to be, on the whole, benign. When one looks back, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Willis, did, on the centuries of repression and reticence one looks back on millions of cold marriage partnerships; on generations of women who were taught to regard sex as an animal need of the brutish male which the wife must suffer out of duty but could never enjoy. Looking at the young couples taking their leisure with their children to-day, I feel sure that there are more joyous unions than ever before in history, because sexual harmony is more easily attainable. I feel that these young people will not be customers for written pornography; and that when they watch films which are explicitly sexual they are 743 neither shocked nor corrupted. Indeed, my Lords, I sometimes think that the sexual values of people of 25 are sounder than those of our generation, because they have not suffered from an upbringing either among Scotch Baptists, like my noble friend, or the Primative Methodists among whom I was brought up.
When we look at the arts to-day we see two kinds of art, or alleged art, which may sometimes overlap. The first kind deals with life without excluding—as generations of authors have had to exclude—its sexual aspects. It is for this kind of serious art that liberals fought and defeated censorship. But the second kind, riding on the revolution, consists of books and films which are, and which are intended to be, dirty books and dirty films which it is hoped will sell on their dirt. As we all know, the difficulty is to discriminate. Even an experienced critic may find it difficult to judge; for the serious writer may easily stray into pornography and the pornographer may have some modicum of literary ability.
If one could discriminate, I doubt very much whether the mass of people of a lower I.Q. would want the Establishment, or the law, to prescribe what they should read and see—"Who are they to say what I should see?". That is a very strong and common attitude; and I believe that a Government which tried seriously to restore a rigorous censorship would meet with great resistance. I do not believe that in another place, on a free vote, such legislation would be found acceptable.
My Lords, I am not insensitive to the dangers of the mass market in pornography. I am not one of those liberals who believe that nobody was ever harmed by what he read. But one can rarely prove that a link exists between reading or seeing and corruption; and sometimes, of course, we are looking for the wrong link. I should not be dismayed if the reading of a book led to an acceptable sexual action; indeed, that might be a healthy reaction. In my view, what is really dangerous is the effect pornography may have on sexual attitudes and sexual values. It is the mind and spirit which are in danger of corruption, and the relationship with the opposite sex. To regard sex as a thing 744 in itself, detached from the rich complex of human emotions, is, I think, the spiritual danger.
Almost all pornography is written by men for men, and it degrades their view of women. That is the true horror, I think, of the strip-tease show, the louche pin-up and the pornographic magazine. I do not think we ought to be worried by simple nudity, or waste our breath in condemning short and coarse words. It is remarkable how quickly those words lose their power to shock or offend. But the damage done by the purveying of wrong sexual values can be lasting. The noble Viscount wondered whether people preoccupied by such questions as racial injustice might not spare some of their time to protest against pornography. Indeed, perhaps the only protest against pornography is coming from that source. It is coming from one of the wiser branches of the Women's Liberation Movement which grew out of the Civil Rights Movement. The Women's Liberation Movement is deeply concerned about the use of women as sexual objects. As Mervyn Jones points out in an article in the Guardian to-day,The contemptuous usage of woman by man as a sex object is an obscenity but because of the object bit, not the sex bit.There has recently been published in this country by a young American woman, Kate Millett, a book of considerable importance, called Sexual Politics, which deals with the victimisation by men of women, using contempt and cruelty as a means of exalting their own sexual prowess. She deals in a devastating way with authors of high literary repute, with D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller and Norman Mailer. This is a salutary book and should certainly be read by all those people who at the time of the "Lady Chatterly" case were saying how beautiful, pure and noble that book was. As Mary Stott wrote, also in the Guardian.These authors widely admired by the avant garde young as liberators of language and attitudes are, in their fantasies, liberating men from their dark neuroses by portraying woman as mindless and loathsome animals.Anybody who reads Kate Millett's book will agree that she has made out her case. I believe that the view she has advanced has already had great effect in 745 the United States on many women, on some men and on her fellow literary critics.
I do not think that legislation is the answer, but I believe that people expect some leadership to help them sort out their own attitudes. I think that we should do this not as moral guardians of society but rather as communicators advancing a point of view. We should not be afraid to condemn what we regard as obscene simply out of fear of being regarded as illiberal or as happy wielders of the back-lash. We have to clear our own minds, so that we can distinguish between the desirable, the tolerable and the intolerable. We have to identify the dark side of the sexual revolution and boldly say it is dark. But I believe that in the end the sexual revolution will have its own purifying effect. I have no great fears for the young. I think the time will come when the dirty book trade will be confined once more to a few pathetic old men, who are hoping that perhaps they may feel once again the breeze blowing from the spice islands of youth, as Coleridge so poetically put it.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, HOME OFFICE (LORD WINDLESHAM)
My Lords, as I listened to this long debate with its 22 speakers, it seemed to me that three questions ran through the discussion. The first was: how are moral standards set and on what underlying factors do they depend? Secondly, how is individual freedom of expression maintained, and in what circumstances can it be overruled? And thirdly, what should be the role of the law?
My noble friend the Paymaster General considered the first of these questions in a speech of notable breadth and vision earlier in the debate this afternoon. He was followed by a number of speakers, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle and my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, on this same theme. My recollection is that the second question was the predominant one in the decade between 1955 and 1965 which saw the two Obscene Publications Acts on the Statute Book. The first one was introduced by Mr. Roy Jenkins and became law in 1959. It was supported by many people concerned 746 with issues of censorship in literature. But it was the third question which, I believe, really lay behind the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Longford. So let me begin my reply by first considering what lies behind the law.
There are differing approaches embodied in the law, and it is worth spelling out the reasoning for this. I should like to draw a distinction between obscenity and indecency, because the noble Earl touched on these two aspects of the subject. The Common Law definition of obscenity, which was adopted in the 1959 Obscene Publications Act, is something which tends to "deprave and corrupt"—words used so often in this debate—those who are exposed to it. Although the language employed sounds rather archaic, I suppose, the concept behind it is clear enough—that is, that obscenity tends to have a lasting, deleterious effect on a person's motives, actions or character. Proceeding from this, the principle of the law is that a person should not be exposed to obscenity, whether willingly or not.
Indecency, on the other hand, is something which is liable to cause shock or outrage, and is therefore more transient in its effect. The principle of the law here is that a person should not be involuntarily exposed to outrage—for instance by indecent displays in the streets or in other public places, or by intrusive advertisements. It has not, however, been thought necessary or right, in a free society, to prohibit a person by law from knowingly exposing himself to the risk of being affected, for instance by attending a nude show in a strip club or a performance of that kind, which he is not compelled to attend but does so of his own volition. I think that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle set the tone for our consideration of this matter when he said that the law should not be unduly restrictive but should hold the ring.
In the context of these remarks about obscenity and indecency, perhaps I might refer to two or three specific aspects of the subject, which have been raised by noble Lords taking part in the debate. The first concerns the question of indecent or offensive advertising. The noble Earl who moved the Motion and the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, both referred, in approving terms I think, to 747 the circular sent out on April 16 (No. 89/71) by the Home Secretary to local authorities, reminding them of the powers they have concerning cinema licensing, and asking them to consider whether they were making adequate use of these powers, with particular reference to indecent or offensive advertisements for films. This is a matter of considerable importance and it arises from what I was saying just now. The person who purchases a ticket and goes into a cinema does so because he wishes to see the film, and his act is the result of his own conscious choice. The person who walks past the cinema in the street may be affected by the advertisement; but had he known of the advertisement he might not have wished to walk past the cinema, nor might he wish to go inside. There is an aspect of the subject here on which we believe local authorities could take action.
The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, asked whether the circular that has been sent out would be followed up. I can say to the noble Lord that I am sure local authorities will pay attention to what has been expressed in public, and in this House to-day, upon this question of cinema advertising. It will be for individual members of the public now to make their voices known to their local councils. The Home Secretary will certainly be keeping a close watch on the situation to see whether any further action is necessary.
Let me now move on to the so-called "club" cinema. A number of these have sprung up fairly recently in which films are shown, often films imported from the United States, comprising scenes of sex and sadism which are usually quite without any artistic merit at all. Under the existing legislation these exhibitions cannot be effectively controlled, and there seems no doubt that offence is caused. We are therefore considering how this loophole—the cinema that turns itself into a club for the purpose of showing these films—might be closed. It is too early to speak in definite terms, but noble Lords may be interested to know our thinking at this stage.
One approach might be to amend the law in such a way that if a film of this kind is publicly advertised, or if a charge 748 is made for admission, then it should be deemed to be a public exhibition for which the premises concerned would require a licence from the cinematograph authorities, so that the normal censorship provisions would apply. This might be backed up with a provision applying a similar test of obscenity to that which is contained in the Obscene Publications Act to all exhibitions other than those given in licensed premises where the licensing authority can control the character of the films shown. I should like to emphasise that these are tentative thoughts, but I can tell the House that the Home Secretary intends to initiate consultations with licensing authorities and the trade shortly to discuss these and any other suggestions which are made.
Next there is the question of the unsolicited circular, which was debated yesterday on an Amendment to the Unsolicited Goods and Services Bill, introduced by my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood. In its present form, as amended yesterday, Clause 4 of this Bill, which was added in the House of Commons, makes it an offence to send an unsolicited circular describing or illustrating human sexual techniques. The object of the clause, as seen by its promoters, is to bring to an end an advertising practice which has given rise to widespread complaint, and which was explained in some detail by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack when that Bill had its Second Reading. As a result of the Amendment, the proceedings have to be initiated by the Director of Public Prosecutions or with his consent. But if this Private Member's Bill reaches the Statute Book, there seems no doubt that the particular type of mischief which was described so vividly by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack will be prevented in future.
The noble Earl, Lord Longford, and several other noble Lords—perhaps a majority of the noble Lords who have spoken in the debate—referred to the proposal for some form of inquiry. The noble Earl told us that he had in mind setting up an inquiry of his own, and he went on to say that he was not pressing the Government to-day for an answer on anything of a more official nature. I am sure that he and other noble Lords will want to look at what my noble friend the Paymaster General said when he 749 considered this particular proposal in his speech earlier this afternoon. But let me make one or two general observations on this matter. This is a proposal that has attracted criticism as well as support in the debate to-day. The legislation concerning the control of pornography in its different manifestations is certainly complex and difficult to understand. But it would not be correct to infer from that that it is ineffective. The police, the customs and the postal authorities use their existing powers extensively, and hundreds of thousands of items are seized every year—printed material, film material—by the police, the customs and others.
It is undoubtedly true that the definition of "obscenity" in the 1959 Obscene Publications Act, as something having "a tendency to deprave and corrupt", is a difficult one to interpret. But, at the same time, we must remember that this particular formula was reviewed by Parliamentary Committees on two occasions, the first in 1958, when a Committee of the House of Commons found that, despite the difficulties of interpretation, there was no formula which they believed would be preferable. This same formula was repeated again in 1967 when a Joint Select Committee of both Houses considered the question of censorship in the theatre and concluded by adopting the same criteria from the earlier Act.
It seems to me that one of the difficulties here is that the concern that has been expressed in this House and outside about an increase in pornography tends usually to be in very general terms. The noble Earl spoke about a rising tide of pornography, and other phrases of that kind are used. There have been, curiously, relatively few particular complaints made by individual members of the public, either to the police under the Obscene Publications Acts or the Indecent Advertisements Act, or to local authorities, as regards film licensing and advertisements for films, or to other responsible bodies.
I am sorry that the noble Viscount who spoke from the Liberal Front Bench is not with us at the end of this debate, because I should have liked to say to him that, when he told us how much he objected to advertisements in the London underground alongside the escalators, and even on the sides of buses, he was giving 750 us a really typical example. Who is responsible for the exhibition of these advertisements? It is not some unprincipled rogue who is interested in profit from pornography. These advertisements are under the direct control of a responsible public authority. If the users of the London Transport services are offended by advertisements on the underground or on the buses, they have a public authority to whom, in the first instance, they can most appropriately put their point of view. Therefore, before coming to the conclusion that the existing laws are inadequate, it is surely right to try to test the present system by subjecting it to systematic and particular complaints by those who feel offended by what they see.
My Lords, this is a subject which raises not one, but a number of fundamental issues. When we ask what sort of a society we want to live in, we think instinctively of a common code of values and aspirations with which we hope our friends and neighbours, or most of them at any rate, will conform. There is then a temptation to take a further step and go on to argue that the code which we believe to be the right one, the one which best represents our ideal of the good life, should not only be an aspiration but should be shared (perhaps codified in legislation) and enforced in some way. The danger here is of coming into conflict with another principle: that morals concern freedom of choice, and that values which are enforced are not freely chosen at all. St. Anthony, whom my noble friend the Paymaster General nominated as Patron Saint for this debate, earned his halo by exercising his freedom of choice and resisting the Devil. Had it not been open to him to choose the wrong, he could hardly have earned his sanctity.
Like other noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, I incline to the view that in questions of morals we should be reluctant to have recourse more than necessary to penal sanctions. The purpose of the criminal law is to prevent positive harm, and it is undesirable to extend its ambit, particularly when problems of definition are bound to introduce very subjective considerations.
We are therefore in this dilemma: that we all desire to raise our standards and eliminate material which we may hold in contempt, but that we ought to pause 751 before concluding that compulsion is the right method of securing this end. We already have legislation which elminates the worst excesses, and it would be wrong to underestimate the extent of its effectiveness. We also have provisions which, if fully used, should protect the public from too much gratuitous affront. In the three matters to which I have already referred, cinema advertising, cinema clubs and unsolicited circulars, action is already being taken or is contemplated.
A noted American jurist, Judge Learned Hand, once spoke of obscenity as the critical point between candour and shame reached in any society at a particular moment. This debate today has enabled us to think again, on the whole calmly and reasonably, about this important subject; to explore some of its less familiar aspects, and to consider where the balance should be struck in contemporary Britain.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I certainly do not intend to make another speech or continue the argument. I rise almost with the sole purpose of thanking those who have taken part, beginning with the two Ministers, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, who spoke so profoundly, and the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, who has been able to give us encouragement on a number of detailed points. When I have read both their speeches once or twice I shall make up my mind whether their attitude is the same. If I had to choose at this moment I would prefer the approach of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles to that of the Home Office. Perhaps when I look at them closely together I may find that they come to exactly the same thing.
I should like to thank all those who have taken part, particularly those who are still here, beginning with the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, who is my master in these latter days, and whose moral guidance I am happy to accept—at any rate provisionally. In any future I can foresee I would accept his infallibility—moral rather than political. I particularly should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, who was able to speak for Wales; bearing in mind, as I do, that my own grandmother came from Llandeilo, I appreciated that. He left us in no doubt that the people of Wales 752 are in favour of strong action being taken in regard to pornography. I must apologise to the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, and the noble Lord, Lord Platt, for missing their speeches. I was called away for various purposes, but I know they spoke very well. I missed, I am afraid, a great deal of the speech by my noble friend Lord Willis, but he and I had a little exchange, so I will not continue the argument with him, or others, now. I felt that the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, gave us that encouragement from Scotland which, coming with the encouragement from Wales, and possibly putting in a little from myself from Ireland, made the English people feel that the outer parts are converging on them.
I came down here not expecting more than has been achieved; in other words, a full discussion. I certainly did not want a discussion in which everyone agreed with me, and that has not happened. Equally, there have been many people who agreed with what was called the "tenor" of my remarks, and that is very satisfactory. So I was not discouraged by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, who descended from above for a while, and then ascended to higher regions, hearing only part of my speech and none of the end of the debate. I am not discouraged by him, bearing in mind that as Chairman of the Arts Council he set up this Working Party. I feel emboldened to go ahead with this inquiry. I fully appreciate what the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said; the time is probably not quite right for the Government to set up their own inquiry. The spadework has to be done first. That is how I see it, and that is how I am very content to take it.
My noble friend Lady Gaitskell touched on a number of points. One day when she is less busy I shall ask her what her solution is: whether she is in favour of any restriction at all and, assuming she is not in favour of the full Danish system, how she intends to impose her restrictions. It would be unfair to expect her to provide an answer to that question without premeditation, but it is one that I should like to put on a future suitable occasion.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, if my noble friend would read again 753 Lord Windlesham's speech he may perhaps find my answer there.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I will gladly read his speech. And if the noble Baroness will read the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, she might find my answer there, and then we should be perfectly suited. The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, dealt with the sexual revolution, and that is too large a question to pursue. I have been reading that interesting book by Miss or Mrs. Millett, and I agree that it is fascinating. I would only ask the noble Lord on some other occasion in due course to explain whether the sexual revolution is simply a franker discussion of sex among young people, or whether it involves premarital fornication in a big way. That is the question so far as I am concerned. I do not think one can talk about a sexual revolution without passing some opinion on it if it is going to mean that traditional morals are to be rejected in favour of some contemporary fashion.
So far as I am concerned, I would regard anybody who taught my children—or now my grandchildren—to indulge in this pre-marital fornication as doing something utterly evil. I am afraid that I cannot use stronger words than that. Therefore, I would want to discuss that aspect of the sexual revolution more fully than we can to-day. My noble friend of course was entitled to discuss it so far as he could to-day. I am going to read again the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle. I was a little disappointed, but when I read it again I may find some encouraging sentences. I hope that when the inquiry with which I am concerned has been carried further, and we have another debate—as we certainly will—the right reverend Prelate will be able to move along with us. At the moment, I confess that in view of the tremendous support from the clergy—
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
Was someone calling me to order? It is far from me to venture to try to cut off a stratospheric conversation. I think I have referred to most noble Lords, except the noble Lord, Lord Roberthall, the noble Lord, Lord Strange, whose speeches were extremely interesting, and the noble Lord, Lord Bethell. I think many noble 754 Lords will pay particular attention to what he had to say. He agreed that pornography has increased; he agreed that it is increasing, and he would like to see it diminished. Perhaps when our inquiry has been carried a little further we shall be able to persuade him that a method is available.
My Lords, I hope I have mentioned everybody who has spoken. I should like to thank them all for playing a part in what I feel, even by the standards of this House, is a debate that will long be remembered. In case anybody reading the Report of this debate is not aware of our intentions, I would say that it is usual to withdraw a Motion of this kind; and therefore I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ LORD MAELOR
My Lords, the noble Earl has mentioned Scotland, Ireland and Wales, but not England. Perhaps he would like to tell his English friends that England at the moment are winning at Wembley 1–0.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.