§ 3.1 p.m.
§ THE LORD BISHOP OF LEICESTER rose to draw attention to the Longford Report on Pornography; and to move for Papers. The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, at first sight this Motion may seem to be a rather unnecessary procedure, for the existence of the report can hardly have escaped the attention of many of your Lordships. Whatever complaints we who belonged to the Committee may have about its reception, we make no complaint about the amount of attention and space that has been accorded to it. The media have in fact ail the time lived in a kind of love-hate relationship with the Committee. They loved it because it was spicy; but they hated it because they thought they might attract some tinge of pharisaism or prudery if they were too kind to it. But whatever the views of critics and others on the report, and on the proposals made, there has been widespread admiration and respect for the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for the courage and perseverance with which he has given himself to this problem. I personally should like to place on record the enormous privilege that I feel it to have been to have worked closely with him during these last 18 months, and to say that, whatever others may think, I admire and respect both the courage and the discretion with which he conducted the controversial tour to Denmark.
§ Our report of course has its limitations. There were the inevitable limitations of the private nature of the inquiry. We admit that the members chosen were those who regarded pornography as a problem meriting attention. There was, however, considerable variety in the outlook and background of the members of the Committee. We were by no means a homogeneous group in politics, age, religious belief or the lack of it. If it is any comfort to any Members of your Lordships' House, we had at least two atheists on the Committee. So there was that degree of variety in our outlook.
§ I feel it is right and proper that your Lordships' House should devote a few hours to considering this matter. Your Lordships will have noticed that there is a considerable list of speakers. The 1257 Times' diarist was just a little previous when he rather gleefully reported that there were only two names down for this debate. He would have been wise to wait a little longer before he gave his opinion about the degree of interest that was being shown in it. Of course I fully understand that many of your Lordships approach this debate with a considerable degree of hesitation and distaste, but I have felt it right to disregard either the warnings or the blandishments that have been brought to bear upon me with a view to the withdrawal of this Motion. I believe that our House will rise to its reputation, as it invariably does, and show that it can deal with the most troublesome and delicate matters with dignity and mutual respect.
The Press reception of the report was not unsympathetic. It received virtually unstinted praise from the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror. It was only when you reached the quality papers that you began to get the harsh criticism, although The Times and the Daily Telegraph were not really unsympathetic. The one really scoffing review which I read was in The Times Literary Supplement, and we have to consider what this implies as to the relation between the literary establishment in this country and those standards of decency and dignity which I believe most of us would wish to uphold. A penetrating review came from Mr. C. H. Rolf in Smith's Trade News. He is a distinguished contributor to the New Statesman, formerly secretary to the A. P. Herbert Committee on Obscene Publications, and a member of the Arts Council's Working Party on censorship laws. He said:
The Longford study group has done a splendid job. The Home Office should have done it."—
though he pointed out that if they had done it we should have been landed with a blue book instead of a red one. He said:
The report is socially valuable, coolheaded, deadpan where it could have been sensational, funny where it could have been silly.
He refers to the big vested interests which were at risk, and stated that of course
this would explain a good deal of criticism.
Poor old John Milton",
will be brought on once again to read his Areopagitica in defence of human behaviour that would make wild animals walk away in embarrassment, but Lord Longford and his reasonably merry men will be happier if their labours produce some workable improvement in the Obscene Publications Act of 1959…
§ We tried to face the question—we had to—whether pornography did harm, and we were well aware of the Report of the Commission in the United States which somehow brought itself to the majority view that it did not do harm. Of course this view was rejected by the Senate and the President. I made it my business to read the evidence as summarised in the book by Mr. Alan Burns. All I can say is that if I were to read passages from that book to your Lordships I should not be surprised if they produced physical nausea. We received sufficient evidence to convince us that pornography certainly can do harm. On page 105 of the report there is a statement by a pathologist—notice that, my Lords; it is not by some sentimental parson, but by a pathologist—who had had to deal with the sad case of a successful schoolboy found hanging with a copy of a popular paper open in front of him. He gave as his opinion that in practically every case of this kind which it was his unfortunate duty to investigate there is pornographic literature lying about.
But we in the Committee do not base our case on "nicely calculated less or more" where harm is concerned. We believe that pornography itself is evil, and that it represents a wrong turning in men's quest for happiness, love and a rich experience in human relationships. In the last resort, we are talking about a value judgment. It is not something which can be statistically proved, one way or the other, but we have to make up our minds what sort of society we want, what sort of a country we want our children and young people to grow up in. We have all seen advertisements for a play in London entitled "The Dirtiest Show in Town". I know nothing about it—it might be the cleanest show when you come to see it—but all I do know is that the mere suggestion planted in thousands of minds that "the dirtier the better" is something that may do
lasting harm to many minds and hearts. I have permission to quote a few phrases from a letter sent by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I do not think anybody will accuse him of being a particularly namby-pamby type. He wrote to me in connection with this debate and said:
I do not believe it is possible for most people to absorb the spate of pornography being forced upon their attention through commercial channels at this time without a general lowering of human behaviour, a blurring of the distinction between right and wrong and damage to human relationships.
I must now summarise the main proposals which the Committee wish to lay before the public. They offer a definition of pornography, though this is not a definition which would have any legal force. Our definition was:
that which exploits and de-humanises sex, so that human beings are treated as things, and women in particular as sex objects.
Our proposals are not proposals for the extension of censorship. The only proposals which involve censorship at all concern the cinema, where there is already the Board of Film Censors and where certain proposals are made, as we think, for the improvement of the construction of the film censorship Board. In the main, we are proposing one new simple law, which will state and describe plainly those things which cannot be produced with impunity but which will involve punishment by society. Many critics have been kind and generous to our intentions and our general viewpoint, but critical or scornful of the legal proposals. I should like to remind the House that no one should dismiss too lightly the legal proposals coming from a Committee which included in its membership the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, the Lord Justice Edmund Davies, Professor Norman Anderson, of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London, the noble Lord, Lord Fletcher, and several other highly qualified members. The draft Bill was drafted by one who is known to be among the most eminent of recent Parliamentary draftsmen.
§ Prima facie, it is not likely that such a Committee would have produced nonsense; but even if someone did think that likely or possible, we have received the most massive support in the recent statements made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, and two other 1260 Judges in a recent case. I shall say nothing regarding the substance of that judgment, because there is some possibility that it may once more be sub judice, but the fact that three eminent lawyers gave as their fixed opinion that the Obscene Publications Act was in need of urgent revision is something that surely this House should take note of as it addresses itself to the legal questions arising from the Longford Committee. I will not go further into this point in case I should get caught on some problem in connection with sub judice matters, but I am quite certain that many of you, knowing nothing of that problem, read the judgments in The Times, and I can allow them to carry their own weight and force.
§ I wish to appeal to your Lordships and, through your Lordships, to the public at large to give the legal proposals of the Committee a fair crack of the whip—if that is not an unfortunate metaphor in this connection. I have noticed that the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary, for whom we all have great respect as a man of good sense and liberal instincts, has said that he is concerned about the public display of indecent material, but he has stated more than once that he sees little value in the reform of the obscenity law and particularly in a new definition for obscenity. We wish to take on the difficult task of persuading him to change his mind. We wish to urge upon this House and upon the nation the value of a redefinition. It is strange that those who are so violently opposed to Victorian taboos should rest so smugly and complacently on the Victorian definition of obscenity, which dates from 1868 and condemns only those things which, taken as a whole, tend to deprave and corrupt those likely to read or see them.
The study group was firmly convinced that this definition regarding a tendency to deprave and corrupt is one which invites long drawn-out arguments to which clear conclusions are unlikely to be found. So we offer a new definition, which is to be found on page 383 of the Report. We say there that—
an article or a performance of a play is obscene if its effect, taken as a whole, is to outrage contemporary standards of decency or humanity accepted by the public at large.
It has been said that this makes no allowance for changing standards; but of
course it does. The articles to be condemned are those which outrage contemporary standards of decency accepted by the public at large, and those who are campaigning against this clause are campaigning for freedom to publish material which does outrage contemporary standards of decency and humanity. That is quite an undertaking.
§ It has been said that the new definition is too subjective. Who is going to judge, people ask, whether material does so outrage contemporary standards? In most cases, of course, it will mean the jury. But is that any more subjective than trying to prove that material depraves or corrupts? In both cases, it is necessary for those who are judging to have some picture in their minds about what life ought to be like, about what sort of a world they want—and that is just as applicable to the old definition of "corrupting and depraving" as it is to the new one about "outraging contemporary standards". Of course attention has to be paid to changing standards, but must changing standards always mean declining standards? Mr. Alfred Garnet is very much addicted to a certain adjective. It is one, of course, that I have frequently heard—I have not lived to my age without becoming thoroughly familiar with it, and I am no longer deeply shocked or surprised when I hear it. But I notice that if such a word is used sixty or seventy times in a short programme it loses all its effect either to amuse or shock, and the only deduction that dramatists must come to is that if they want to shock and surprise it is no good using that word; they have to think of something worse. So this continual decline in standards goes on unless the better minds in the community do something to arrest and change it.
§ Judging from the letters that I have received in connection with this debate I am not sure whether standards are not already changing in the opposite direction. I have been particularly impressed by the number of expressions of interest and support that I have had from intelligent young people. I believe it is a mistake to think that all the best and liberally minded people in the nation want to see a continual decline to the gutter in every aspect of our cultural and social life. We all know that the B.B.C. 1262 has its moments when it is so anxious to prove that it is not an old-fashioned, puritanical maiden aunt; that it prefers to appear in the guise of a wicked old woman, now 50 years of age and past enjoying sin for herself, but taking a wicked delight in persuading others to enter on that course.
§ Then we have taken our boldest plunge and suggested the withdrawal of the defence of the public good. This is the defence which can be raised about material admitted to be obscene but held by some still to be in the public interest. We have seen a very vivid example of this in the case of Regina v. Gold which was reported at some length in the New Statesman. The point is made that so long as there is in the material some passing on of knowledge which may perhaps remove feelings of guilt from those who otherwise would have felt guilty in indulging in certain practices, there is a contribution to learning and the public good; and some very extraordinary decisions seem to me to be made as the result of that defence.
§ Speaking for a moment about that case, I do not know whether your Lordships noticed that at the beginning of it the judge passed on a request to the jury that if there were any there who were members of any organisation which strongly objected to the publication of sexual material of this sort they should withdraw from the jury, and one did so. I cannot stop to explain what he said, but your Lordships would be rather disturbed if you saw the statement that he made which apparently disqualified him in our modern world from being a member of a jury in a case like that. No statement was made that if there were any members of the jury who believed in pornography and liked it they should withdraw. I do not know quite where this is going to lead to. We shall soon come to the point where anybody in a jury who believes in the Ten Commandments will be asked to withdraw from any trial concerning theft or murder.
§ We state that indecent material should not be displayed or offered for sale in any public place, and we hope that this will do something to protect young people, including our children in school, from certain kinds of so-called sex education. We have suggested consider- 1263 able increases in the fines which can be levied on offenders. I am sure that your Lordships will all agree that pornographers ought to bear their share in the rise of the cost of living.
§ We have introduced a new proposed clause; namely, a clause making it an offence to engage or induce other persons to take part as actors in any obscene or indecent performance to be shown to the public, or as models for similar shows or photographs. We believe this to be a necessary protection for the immature or the economically weak. We believe that this clause, if accepted, would do more than anything else to put some kind of a brake, at least, on the production of this material in our own country. We suggest that all these conditions should apply across the board to books, magazines, cinemas (with certain reservations), to the B.B.C. and the I.T.V. We see no reason for exempting broadcasting from the demands of the law—in fact, quite the reverse, for here is something which invades almost every home in the land. We are totally unconvinced by the argument that it is always possible to turn off what is not desired. We know from experience that this is often impossible and impracticable.
§ On the whole, we stress the point that the only way we can really protect the young is by improving the standards of adult entertainment. It is fictitious to say to our young people, "You are not old enough for this", or to advertise a film as I saw recently advertised in the Charing Cross Road as an "Adult film for adult audiences". What could you do more to encourage young people to want to see that film, either then or as soon as possible? We believe that it is fictitious to use this word "adult" as an excuse for indecency. There is no better way of encouraging young people to want pornography than to let them think that this is what grown-ups most enjoy. It is true that the whole of this effort with which we have been engaged in the pornography Committee is in itself a negative occupation. We regard ourselves merely as trying to get rid of bad smells and poisons in the life of our community. We know perfectly well that the real task for a healthy community is to open the way for happy, healthy and wholesome development of personality and personal 1264 relationships. It is because we believe that sex and the life of love has so much more to offer than pornography that we want to see pornography strictly controlled.
My Lords, I close with some words from Miss Elizabeth Manners, the author of the powerful book, The Vulnerable Generation:
Let us bring our children into the presence of greatness instead of holding up to them as an example all that is lowest and most degraded in our society; let us show them beauty not only in the physical world but in human relationships, rather than expose them to the ugliness of life.…If all we can do is to show them a world where violence, lust, hatred and confusion reign, how are they going to face the challenge of the future?
§ My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
Reverend. I will dispute the right reverend Prelate's relevance a little later on; but I am one of those who did not welcome this debate. I only speak because I regard it as my duty, and I do so without much pleasure; I certainly do not speak on behalf of my Party, but I feel bound to express views which I hope will be regarded as moderate and acceptable, but which none the less lead me to a different conclusion from that of the right reverend Prelate. May I say that one reason why I was anxious not to speak was my affection for my noble friend Lord Longford. Although the report has been received with praise in some quarters, my own impression is that it has been received with a great deal less than praise in others; and some of the things which have been said about Lord Longford personally I believe to be both unkind and totally unjustified. The fact that he may have brought some of them on himself is something that my noble friend would, I am sure, be the first to accept.
I want to make it clear that those, like myself, who are bothered and indeed confused, with less of the certainty which perhaps came from the right reverend Prelate; that those who oppose the sort of proposals and disagree with some of the arguments in the Longford Report, 1265 do not feel so out of any love for pornography. While I shall seek to avoid getting caught up in semantics, I must deal in the realm of ethics and indeed of social ethics. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate, and indeed the whole of the Bishops' Bench, would be among the first to agree that ethics are the concern of every citizen and that laymen have to express their views.
I have read the Longford Report, which is more than most people, I think, in your Lordships' House have done. Some of my noble friends were put off by the cover; and the fact, it has been selling well in the Charing Cross Road I make only as a passing point and in no way as any reflection on Lord Longford. What I should like to say is that, having read the report, I find the contents a great deal less illiberal than many of the reviewers have expressed; and I agree with the right reverend Prelate that there is a great deal of genuine heart-searching; the issues are brought out and discussed, and for the most part discussed with moderation. None the less, I find some of the arguments, and therefore the conclusions, unsatisfactory, as I confess I have found the arguments from the right reverend Prelate. He, for example, said that the Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography somehow brought themselves to sign the document. I happen to believe that when people are put on a Royal Commission, or an American Commission appointed by the President, the appointing body seeks to find responsible citizens, people with knowledge, and well adjusted. I must say that I am not an export—I mean an expert—on pornography (nor yet, I hope, an export), and have seen practically no hard pornography—although my noble friend Lady Phillips offered to chaperon me on a journey down the Charing Cross Road. But it is important in this debate that we should at least see what measure of agreement there is between us.
I am perfectly prepared to accept that pornography is disgusting and an offence and that it is wrong that the public should have it forced upon them. Nor do I wish (I have some qualifications that I will come to) the young to be exposed to this. I feel that this is very much a matter for the families. But, in any case, it would be intolerable if the young were at a very immature age to have to see some of what 1266 I believe is pretty unpleasant stuff. But I am bound to say that it has yet to be proved that exposure to pornography is a major social evil as compared with the many other social evils with which we live every day. The right reverend Prelate said that sex and healthy love is more important than pornography. I could not agree more, but I would not, frankly, have put them in the same sentence. I do not regard pornography as something other than an unpleasant, almost eccentricity.
I accept a great deal of the arguments in the report, but I will go on to say why I want us to look at this whole problem very coolly and that our instinctive distaste should not blind our judgment when we come to consider remedies. One of our difficulties in discussing this question is that pornography, like many other things, but particularly, seems to arouse an almost psychopathic hatred among some people. It was not in evidence at all in the speech of the right reverend Prelate, and that is why I beg that we do look at this coolly when we are going to consider remedies. There is to my mind an overwhelming weight of serious sociological, and indeed psychiatric and medical evidence that pornography and obscenity in the media of communication and entertainment have no harmful effects on adults. Noble Lords may not agree with me on this, but I can only say that experts who have considered this have honestly come to this conclusion.
I may say that the American Commission went to on recommend the repeal of legislation that made its sale illegal while retaining legislation to prohibit its sale to children and young people. Somewhat similar conclusions and recommendations in regard to books were made by the Working Party of the Arts Council. In each case—and here I quote from the introduction by John Trevelyan to the Obscenity Report, which is another document that noble Lords ought perhaps to look at because it includes the American Report—responsible people weighed the available evidence and reached the conclusion that we were unnecessarily worried about the sale of obscenity and pornography to adults who want to buy it".
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, may I break in? The noble Lord of course is no doubt going to refer to 1267 the views of the Minority Commission in America which reached precisely the opposite conclusion.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
I am perfectly prepared to, my Lords, although I was anxious to avoid it because Mr. Keating's Report was, I feel, one of the most prejudicial and unscientific documents that I have seen anyway. I believe the Commissioner was brought in when President Nixon found that the Report was not to his liking, in an attempt to redress the balance. None the less, the noble Earl will be able to refer to it. But this was the Commission as originally appointed and the majority came to this conclusion.
I am not seeking at this moment to prove the case. I am merely trying to say that there is another point of view and it is one that we should not lightly dispense with or throw away because of the strength of feeling that I believe we all in your Lordships' House have with regard to the offensive and unpleasant nature of pornography. It is very much easier for those of us in public life to take the easy path in this sort of matter. That is why I say I do not particularly enjoy making this speech, and I am doing so because I believe it is in fact my duty to put these arguments. Again I stress that these are personal conclusions, the personal views of someone who admits to being somewhat confused on the issue; but none the less I am concerned about the legal consequences of the legislation which has been proposed in the Longford Report.
I am prepared to accept, if distinguished lawyers tell me, that the 1959 Act, based on the Hicklin legal definiiton of obscenity, may now be unsatisfactory and may present the judges and police with difficulties. But the question before us is not whether we should move towards more restrictive legislation, with all the dangers that are involved, or whether in fact we ought to advance in another direction. Let me say that I am not myself now advocating the course that has been followed in Denmark. I admit that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the right reverend Prelate are more expert on this—and I mean that in no disrespectful sense of the word—but I am bound to say that the Danish legislation (and it may be that others can contro- 1268 vert what I have to say) is quite specific in protecting the young and protecting the public from unpleasant display. At this point I think we would all agree that whatever else may emerge we would wish to achieve this. Incidentally, it has been pointed out by the Criminal Law Committee in Denmark that no one has ever succeeded in providing a general definition of "pornography" as a basis for interpreting the law. Therefore, the suggestion put forward by the right reverend Prelate has the attraction in that it provides such an interpretation.
The fact is, and I have it authoritatively, that to-day there are none of the clubs showing the sort of shows to which the noble Earl objected and which existed a year or two ago. They have been closed by police action. There is even a movement to remove from the more fashionable streets the sort of pornographic displays which I understand have existed and which we find objectionable. The text of Section 234 of the Act says that any person who sells obscene pictures or objects to a person under sixteen years of age shall be liable to a fine. There is provision also about sending this sort of stuff through the mails when it has not been asked for. Therefore I think we should consider carefully before we adopt anything like the legislation which has been proposed.
Here I think we need to take a quick look at the ethical and the social basis of what is proposed, and I would commend to noble Lords who have not read it a brilliant lecture given by Dr. Jonathan Miller to the British Academy, and if any one, because of the name of Jonathan Miller, conjures up different types of entertainment, I am bound to say that the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, delivered a similar address, although not on the same subject, under the Thank Offering to Britain Fund lectures, and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, would confirm that this was a very respectable audience and a very respectable occasion.
I have not time to deal with the whole of the very interesting argument but I urge noble Lords to read it. The point that Dr. Miller brings out is that there are three arguments that can be used against pornography. One is the moral one. I accept that this is important and that there is a strong Christian basis to it, 1269 but I shall also, if I may, go on to question whether it is correct to proceed to enforce morality by the sort of law that is before us. One is prudential; that is to say, it is socially harmful, and I still believe that that is unproven. We may all instinctively say, "This is the sort of thing which people would say there ought to be a law against", but the question we still have to ask is how much social harm pornography does when we come to consider the sort of legal remedies and their consequences which must follow. While I concede the third of his conclusions—and I have already stated this—that pornography is offensive and we are entitled as the public to be protected from it, I do not think either the moral arguments or the social arguments justify the sort of restrictive legislation with which we have been all too familiar in other countries. I will come in a moment to the question of whether it is censorship.
In a report on the question of the damage that is done, and the social argument, the Danish Forensic Medicine Council, in I think about 1966, stated after thorough analysis that they were unable to find anything to suggest that the reading of pornographic or erotic literature has been a contributory factor in the committing of crimes. This is arguable. I do not believe it is proven either way, but there have been some recent studies and we must at least note them. We may wish to reject them, but the study by Mr. Kutchinsky quite recently has suggested most strongly that there is a definite decline in exhibitionism and indecency towards girls and that this, at least in time, is correlative with the new law by which pornography is more freely available to adults than it had been. This is a provisional report; the Danish Government are considering it further. But it leads me on to the question as to whether we ought now to indulge in the sort of legislation which the right reverend Prelate and the noble Earl suggest.
I think I am right in saying that in the Longford Report there was some reference—and certainly I have seen it elsewhere—to the link between the sadism of Nazi Germany and, in particular, the paper der Stümer. I still have, I regret to say, a copy of that terrible issue which had the words "Toten Schade tür Juden"—"Death Penalty for Jews". It was a horrible paper, and those who 1270 argue that Christian sexual morality requires the courses advocated in the Longford Report must remember that ultimately it may lead to censorship, because it is a very difficult and dangerous area in which to draw the line, and that it is essentially the totalitarian societies, whether Fascist, Nazi or Communist, that have been the most puritan in their approach to sexual issues.
If we are to bring the force of law to bear against pornography who will be benefited thereby? I have already agreed—and I hope we shall be able to find a law to provide it, although I think it will be difficult—that public display of an offensive kind should be limited. We insist that young people should be protected; but I am again bound to say—and it may be embarrassing to say it—that there is even evidence that pornography may be beneficial to those unfortunate people outside the influence of the Church, or even within it, who are sexually frustrated or deviated, and it may even provide a safety valve for people who might otherwise harm others. Some noble Lord will find this a shocking statement, but we may as well face the social consequences of the course we might take.
I say to the right reverend Prelate that although there are determinist arguments in regard to the development of children—it is suggested that their sexual capability and nature are determined while they are quite young—I also regard it as a basic part of the Christian creed to believe that human beings are given free will and the freedom of choice. I note that the Bishop of Stepney, in his evidence in the Report, actually suggests that whatever is done, it should not be done by means of restrictive measures. The answer to pornography, he says, is not a restrictive answer; and it is interesting to find in another part of the Report—in my view a very good part of it—that the conclusions are not dissimilar to those I have expressed. The moral issue is recognised as a difficult one and there is an expression of hope that suitable law will be found.
I believe we have to accept that the principle of freedom of choice that I have mentioned should apply to those who reach the age of maturity. In any case, I find it difficult to see an alterna- 1271 tive. Personally, I should have thought—there may be evidence to the contrary—that hard "porn" is, if anything, inhibiting, and it may be suggested that it is desensitising to the real subject of sex and love. I also find much that appears in the popular Press, and indeed on television, offensive; and I have said so in your Lordships' House. I am all for the raising of standards, but I do not believe that we shall achieve this by stricter law which, whatever the right reverend Prelate may say, will in my view have the effect of censorship; it has been all too effective in the past.
There are other noble Lords—for example, the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and my noble friend Lord Stow Hill—who are more competent than I am to discuss the actual proposals, but do we really want to go back to the sort of debate we had 12 years ago and consider whether Lady Chatterley's Lover should be banned? Indeed, at the time of that debate some people wanted to ban the whole of D. H. Lawrence. Where does one draw the line? This is what concerns me.
I was bothered by some of the remarks of members of the Committee when they appeared on radio and made statements about the importance of being inhibited about sex. I do not believe that this is the right approach. Nor do I believe that the right reverend Prelate would accept it, though surely we can be rational and think in terms of love. Pornography may be an evil, but it is an evil that should not call for a disproportionate amount of our time when there are so many other evils which are, I believe, greater. How far is it an escape from a society which many people regard as unjust, hard and self-regarding with poverty, cruelty and violence? There is much scope here for moral improvement, but it is not the sort of improvement that can be achieved by law. I quote again from Jonathan Miller:Our current concern with obscenity and pornography merely delays constructive social action.I do not wish to deliver a sermon. I would rather we concentrated on the real ills of society and did not allow ourselves to be distracted into what could be a dangerous digression by a further 1272 extension of the law into areas where individual freedom must be allowed to find its path—I hope to good rather than to evil.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, I am delighted to follow what was in my view the courageous and exceptionally wise speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, with virtually every word of which I agreed. That is one of the reasons why I shall be addressing your Lordships for possibly a record short time for a Front Bench speaker. One other reason is that I and the great majority of my colleagues on these Benches were mystified as to the reason for this debate and felt, with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that possibly it was unnecessary. We had a debate on the subject of pornography not very long ago and it is the impression of many of us that the Longford Report adds nothing of substance to the real arguments at issue. We are indeed grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford—and I have read his report—for the last few pages. Appendix 5, compiled by Maurice Yaffé", is an admirable summary, in my view, nowhere before assembled in such an encapsulated form, of what the evidence on this subject really is, and we are even more indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in that on balance it does not do his case very much good.
What I have said so far I think carries with it the agreement of the great majority of my colleagues on these Benches. What I now wish to say is entirely personal. It has always seemed to me that the burden of proof in a free society rests on those who would restrict people's freedoms or maintain restrictions on those freedoms, and that the burden of proof is not on those who would establish the freedoms. We must, therefore, be persuaded by argument and proof that pornography in fact does serious harm to individuals and society. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has already spoken about the evidence and I will not repeat his remarks, except to put one slight gloss of them. The fact that there is very little evidence to show the harm that pornography does is often written off—indeed, it is twice written off in the Longford Report—as being the result of the opinion that this is a question to which it is impossible to apply 1273 standards of proof. I do not think that that is necessarily so. I suggest that one of the reasons for the lack of evidence that pornography does harm is perhaps that pornography does not do harm. We may dislike it and be disgusted by a lot of it, but there is little evidence to show that it does harm except in a small minority of cases, of which several are quoted in the report and one of which was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. I submit that the small minority of cases has the same ratio to normally sexual man as the number of cases of religious maniacs has to normally religious people.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will permit me to ask a question, the answer to which may help his case; or alternatively it may not. Does he know of a comparable area where the kind of evidence for which he is looking exists, or is this a special test to be applied in this case? Is this evidence, call it scientific evidence, available in any other field?
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, while the noble Earl, Lord Longford, was asking that question I heard the word "drugs" murmured. I do not think I quite appreciated the noble Earl's point. I say that one must have evidence to introduce restrictions. We have evidence in cases of crime and we have evidence about what happens to human beings through an unlimited supply of hard drugs. I suggest that we are entitled to seek for evidence if we are going to ban pornography, and I suggest that it is not there. Without that evidence we are left in a position where, with the greatest respect and without any vanity on my part, my opinion is as good as the noble Earl's, no better no worse; or, more important possibly, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton's opinion is as good as the opinion of the noble Earl, Lord Longford or the opinion of the right reverend Prelate. I suggest that this is a very unsound basis for any legislation. I would go on to say that it is almost imposible to draft any legislation which will not include a class of publication which many of your Lordships would regard as pornographic, such as the magazine Forum, but which I am 1274 personally convinced on the whole does good.
I entirely agree with, I imagine, almost everyone in your Lordships' House in saying that I, too, will support legislation which will stop pornography or any offensive material of any kind being forced, unsought, on people who do not want it. I will certainly join in support of that at any time, but if I am to be asked at any time to support legislation which will tell me or my children, or other people and their children, what they may or may not read, a much better case must be made for it than has ever been made yet.
§ 4.1 p.m.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
My Lords, may I begin by congratulating the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Leicester, for giving us the opportunity to discuss the report of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, on pornography, and for the very stimulating way that he has dealt with it. This was an entirely private initiative by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and he deserves the highest praise for tackling this exceptionally difficult subject and in providing a report in less than eighteen months. We are all in his debt for making available an up-to-date commentary on one of the less attractive features of our times but one on which many members of the public have expressed concern.
My Lords, the report covers a wide range of subjects; not only the problem of pornographic publications, which is the concern of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, but also those of sex education and broadcasting which are the concern of my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications. If I were to attempt to deal comprehensively with all these aspects I am afraid I should speak for far too long. What I propose to do is to give a general indication of the Government's attitude to the report as a whole and then deal specifically with those parts of it dealing with sex education and broadcasting, leaving my noble friend Lord Colville, who will be winding up, to deal with those aspects of the report which are of more direct concern to the Home Office.
We would, I think, all like to thank the noble Earl and his Committee for the 1275 work that they have put into this report. The list of persons and organisations who were consulted or gave evidence shows the very wide range of opinion and views made available to this inquiry. At the same time the report includes a number of personal expressions of opinion on the part of those involved and they sometimes give the report a vividness that the more impersonal reports of official inquiries often lack. But this is not a substitute for a scientific analysis of the scope of the subject and the nature of the problems. We need, therefore, to remember that this was a private inquiry and that, however persuasive we may find parts of it, we cannot regard it as a conclusive treatment of a very difficult problem.
Subject to reservations of this kind, however, I am sure that all noble Lords and Baronesses, on both sides of the House, will join with me in welcoming the opportunity that this report affords of conducting a more informed discussion of a subject which rightly has received a good deal of public attention in recent years. The nature of this public interest, however, needs to be analysed with some care. The report of the noble Earl's Committee received wide publicity, but I do not think we should conclude from this that it was only pornography as such which gave rise to that interest. The public attitude is in fact a good deal more ambivalent to this subject than some expressions of view might lead us to believe. A national opinion poll conducted shortly after the report was published showed a wide measure of agreement for the proposition that pornography should be controlled. At the same time, the majority of respondents believed that they personally would be unharmed by exposure to pornography. This is a situation in which, in the absence of any more reliable objective criteria, it is peculiarly difficult to frame a law which will impose appropriate restrictions on the material to which we think various groups in the community ought not to be exposed without at the same time interfering to an unjustifiable degree with what we ourselves believe we should be free to choose to read or see.
Indeed, if current trends were confined to pressure for the removal of all restrictions there might be cause for concern. 1276 But this is not the case. There is an equally strong desire for an improvement in the general quality of life and in the environment in which we life. In this context I think it is entirely consistent that pornography should be regarded as a form of pollution and that, whatever action we think appropriate with regard to the private circulation of pornographic material, there should be pressure for its removal from our public life. This is a subject on which my noble friend will have more to say later.
The report rightly stresses the potentially harmful effects pornography may have on children. Whatever uncertainties there may be about the effects of porno-graph on adults I am sure there will be universal agreement that the healthy development of children is far too important to be put at risk in any way by exposing them to influences of this kind. Here I hope that I can give a partial answer to the point that the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Leicester, put. The law already makes special provision for this in a number of ways; that is, the protection of children. The definition of obscenity expressly takes into account the persons who are likely, in all the circumstances, to be exposed to the material in question. Its effectiveness is illustrated by the proceedings against the Little Red School Book and the Oz School Kids issue. The former was deliberately produced for a young audience and there was a strong implication in the case of the latter that it had a special appeal for the young. Both were convicted on the ground of obscenity, a great deal of the proceedings in the case of Oz being concerned with the effect of the material on children. The Oz convictions for obscenity were subsequently quashed on appeal, but this arose from defects in the judge's summing-up which related to other issues than the effect on children.
In addition, the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act, 1955, which was passed to deal with horror comics, makes it an offence to print or sell, et cetera, books or magazines likely to fall into the hands of children or young persons which deal with crime or violence or incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature. Section 3 of the Cinematograph Act 1952, which followed the Departmental Committee on Children 1277 and the Cinema, makes it the duty of the cinema licensing authority to impose conditions prohibiting the admission of children to unsuitable films and Section 4 of that Act makes special provision for children's performances.
Finally, there are already in existence provisions directed against the display in public of material which is indecent. These are less effective than they might be, and my noble friend who will be replying at the end of the debate will have more to say later about the Home Secretary's plans for improving this branch of the law. The strengthening of this protection will automatically reinforce the safeguards against the material to which children are exposed.
I turn now to that part of Lord Longford's report on sex education. I have already referred to the concern which we all naturally feel about the influences which surround young people as they grow up. They are exposed to many and various pressures from the adult world, and as a former chairman of an education committee and as a school governor, I can vouch for the way in which many schools are trying to help young people to cope with the complexities of life and to withstand many of the present-day pressures; and in particular to help them in the field of sexual behaviour and personal relationships
. My Lords, it is of course for individual local education authorities and for the managing and governing bodies of schools, to decide what they should do about including education about sex in the school curriculum. My own education authority some years ago felt that with the increasing pressures on young people opportunities ought to be provided for pupils not only to learn about the physiology of reproduction but also to appreciate that sex was not just a personal physical matter; that responsible thinking about sex involved thinking about other people, about love and marriage, about the family, about future responsibilities as parents, about religious beliefs. My own authority therefore drew up a scheme of approach to teaching about sex and personal relationships which is not dissimilar from the approach set out in the Gloucestershire scheme which is referred to briefly in the chapter on sex education.
1278 A great many local education authorities have drawn up similar schemes of work or have working parties studying the subject, or provide courses and conferences for their teachers. There is great variation in the way individual schools have responded. Some, for various reasons, may do very little; but where schools have decided to ensure that there is a systematic approach to the whole subject it is certainly usual for them to seek the views of parents about it. It may often happen that doctors and nurses, religious and voluntary organisations, participate in the work and that the courses may be designed so that parents can also participate in discussions arising from them. Parents who have been thus involved have found that this has given them a better understanding of the problems of their children, particularly in adolescence, and of how to discuss these with them.
I mention all this because I think that a great many of the responsible people who are involved with what is going on in schools on this subject—among whom I would number myself—were perhaps a little surprised that a chapter on sex education in schools should not include any mention of it. I also think that there may be many within the education service who will feel that in suggesting that work done in schools might verge on the "pornographic" the members of the sub-committee were perhaps looking more at the work of what I might term "private venturers" outside the education service than at the approach of members of local education committees, or of those who represent the community on school managing and governing bodies, or of the teachers themselves.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Baroness? She has been so kind about our report that I hesitate to point out that there were two head teachers of State schools who played a very prominent part in our sex education committee.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
My Lords, I did, of course, read with great interest the membership of that committee. I think it only fair to the education service and to those many people who have been involved in the education world to put the other side of this case, because there 1279 are many people who feel that young people to-day need responsible help and guidance and are getting it from the education service.
Before leaving this subject, I should like to say something about the sex education programmes shown by the B.B.C. These were in fact initiated by the Schools Broadcasting Council. This body is comprised of representatives of teachers' associatons. local authorities and representatives of the Department of Education and Science, all, one would pink, highly responsible people. The programmes were shown to Members of Parliament and I think it is true to say that they regarded them as highly responsible and valuable. In these circumstances I cannot accept that they could be considered in any sense pornographic.
I am sure your Lordships will agree that it is only fair that I should voice these criticisms of this particular chapter. It is also only fair that I should commend the authors of the chapter on sex education for the many valuable comments that they have made. It is valuable that we should be reminded of the sensitivity of the young and of their natural hesitancies and embarrassments and their different rates of growth; that there must be careful consideration of the purpose for which information is being presented to young people and of what information is presented; that attention should be focused on parents' responsibilities and on the benefit which can come to both parents and teachers when there is co-operation in considering the best ways of helping children to reach an understanding of their own physical and emotional development, and of the problems of behaviour which are associated with these. Education is, of course, a field where the Government have some positive concern. I hope that what I have said will reassure your Lordships that their responsibilities are fully recognised by all who work in this field and that we need have no cause for disquiet on this score.
Another field with which the report deals and which is subject to the control of public authorities is broadcasting. The first point that I should like to make on this subject is that it is a longstanding constitutional convention that the respon- 1280 sibility for programmes broadcast should rest wholly and solely with the broadcasting authorities as trustees of the public interest in broadcasting. The Government believe this to be right. If a Minister were to make a judgment on programme content, it could so easily be used as a precedent leading to some more generalised form of political control over programmes. We shall, I think, recognise that if broadcasters are to retain freedom to develop their art there are certain to be occasional lapses among the many thousands of programmes we see, for there are each week some 200 hours of television and several hundred hours of radio programmes. Secondly, we must keep a sense of proportion when we think about what has been termed "obscenity" in broadcasting. After a most careful reading of Mr. Muggeridge's chapter, I conclude that, though he has criticisms to make about broadcasting services, he does not regard them as pornographic.
Now, my Lords, I come to the specific recommendations. The primary recommendation is that broadcasting should be subject to an amended obscene publications law under which it would be an offence to outrage contemporary standards of decency or humanity accepted by the public at large. Many of your Lordships will remember that the previous Conservative Government considered whether there should be legislation to cover broadcasting, as well as the cinema and the stage, during the stages leading to the Obscene Publications Act 1959, but in view of the exercise of control over broadcasting by public corporations, the B.B.C. and the I.T.A., the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Kilmuir, agreed that it was right to leave broadcasting "in the limbo of the common law" where it already lay. That remains our position. Our view is that it is unnecessary to subject broadcasting to obscenity Statutes, for the governing boards of the B.B.C. and the I.B.A. are already under an obligation to ensure that so far as possible programmes do not offend against good taste or decency and are not offensive to public feeling. The words "so far as possible" reflect the fact that there is a wide range of opinion across the national audience as to What is offensive, and that some people are very much more easily offended than others. They are the words which Parliament wrote into the Television Act 1281 1964 in recognition of the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of formulating an exact prescription.
The second recommendation is that the B.B.C. should make more use of their advisory councils, who should be called on to publish annual reports. There is no reason to suppose that the B.B.C. are wrongly ignoring the advice of their advisory councils; and indeed they would be very foolish not to make good use of their advice. But it is the B.B.C. who have the ultimate responsibility for programmes broadcast, and it is for them to decide whether they act on the advice or not. If the annual reports of the advisory councils were published, I believe it would have the effect of setting the advisory councils up as broadcasting councils in conflict with the B.B.C. rather than as useful advisers retaining their confidence. Indeed if the B.B.C. were bound to take their advice it would not be advice but instruction, and the B.B.C. would not be fully in charge of the service.
The third recommendation is that a viewers' council would allow for an additional outlet for complaints by the general public. This is a solution proposed by a number of people, but it has always been rejected on the grounds that a viewers' council would tend to erode the authority, and therefore the sense of responsibility, of the B.B.C. and the I.B.A. and act as a buffer between them and Parliament, which is the institution best fitted to represent public opinion.
I should like to make it clear that the broadcasting authorities do not discharge their responsibilities without any check. First, there is the formal machinery—the whole range of advisory councils and committees, one of whose major functions is to keep the broadcasters properly sensitive to public opinion. Then there are letters from viewers and listeners, written directly to the B.B.C. and I.B.A., or to the Press, or to Members of Parliament. Next, there is the Press itself, which finds broadcasting a matter for constant and vigilant attention. Finally, the broadcasting authorities are subject to public opinion as it expresses itself in Parliament. By one means and another, if there is justifiable dissatisfaction with the performance of the broadcasting 1282 authorities, it will make itself felt. I realise that there are anxieties. Some have already been expressed in the debate. The various views, and especially the criticisms, which are expressed here will, I know, be most carefully studied by the noble Lords, Lord Hill of Luton and Lord Aylestone, and their colleagues on the Governing Boards of the B.B.C. and the I.B.A.
My Lords, I am afraid that I have not been able to deal in any way exhaustively with those aspects of the report I have discussed. This is a complex subject. It is undoubtedly one of great public concern and there is pressure for Government action and, as I said, my noble friend will be dealing with this later. I will content myself with saying that Government action must depend to some extent on a full and informed public debate. In addition, there are other aspects of this subject which are outside the control of the Government but which call for continuing effort from all sections of the community to raise standards The report of the noble Earl's Committee has already served to further both of these ends, in itself, and in the debate which it has prompted this afternoon. The Government have already studied the report with care, and we shall now wish to consider further all that is said in the course of the debate.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HANWORTH
My Lords, first I should like to get out of the way the personal and philosophical angle in what we all know is a very emotive subject. Much as one may try to be a pragmatist and look at it purely from that point of view, there must in the end be a slight personal bias one way or another according to what one's values may be. The humanist—and most permissive people in some degree are that—are, in my opinion, no more logical when it comes down to brass tacks than they might say is the churchman, because in the end those things that are really important can seldom be proved.
For example, it is difficult to say why, to the humanist, the future of the human race should be important. It may matter for their children, but logically why should it matter in the longer-term future to the humanist? So many of these 1283 things are not capable of complete logical proof one way or the other. I personally happen to support, in the main, the views of my noble friend Lord Longford, because I believe in the dignity of life, in after-life and in a distinct purpose for this life. Nevertheless, I intend to approach the subject largely as a moderate and as a pragmatist, but I am afraid that I ought to say that I dismiss the arguments of the avant garde as being important only in so far as they have a much greater influence on the moderates than they used to have.
I should regret it if, in a subject like this, in the end our decisions were taken too much from the views of the vocal minority. I think that the balanced view is contained in everything which the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said in a previous debate on this subject. Pornography is ugly and degrades the higher expressions of sex and sexual relationships between men and women. I think I can say, on my own terms. that it is morally degrading, if the term "moral" is used in the normally accepted sense. I do not pretend that there can be proof of this, because I do not think that that sort of thing is susceptible to proof. It would not in fact surprise me if, to certain perverted people, hard pornography might even be of some value. But we have to think of the majority as a whole, and although, as I shall say later, I do not believe in trying to stamp out hard pornography utterly, I do believe in trying to some extent to decrease it and to prevent it from being publicly shown.
I wonder how many of your Lordships have visited the "porn" shops and realise how rapidly they are spreading, and, until quite recently, how much more blatant they were becoming. I believe that this is an extremely important factor, because it shows that the tightening up of our law—and, incidentally, the Longford Report—has in fact made people a very great deal more careful, and the situation is a great deal less objectionable from a public point of view. I have some hesitation in saying what in fact is exhibited, but I think that to some extent I must. I do not propose to go any further than the noble Earl, Lord Longford, did on a previous occasion, but I feel that unless one realises what exists one is apt to deal with a sub- 1284 ject far too much on an armchair basis.
In some shops, even in the open part, you can see explicit copulation in full colour with all the parts shown in detail. Behind the curtain, to which there is often free access, threesomes with oral sex is, for example, on full display. In the sealed magazines or books which are sold for about £4 anything which you could possibly imagine is available. Another merit of our law, ineffective though it may be, is that it has kept up the price of these magazines so that they do not distribute as freely as would otherwise be the case. I just mention in passing that for 50p you can buy the Adult Advertiser, which is also in the window, although admittedly sealed, and this contains advertisements from people interested in threesomes, foursomes, or any form of perversion.
Whatever we feel about hard "porn"—and I am not so concerned about it because I think that it is so sordid that it really puts off a great many people and does not have appeal—I nevertheless think that it would be highly unfortunate if it spread without check. The question of course is, as I was saying: what should and can we do about this? Clearly a great deal goes far beyond what is legal, but is ignored by the authorities. But we are in a difficult position with the present law. One thing I am certain of is that unless we take some action now, things will tend to get worse, and it will be much more difficult or even impossible to take any effective action later on. I must also deal with the cine club. In the cine club, to which membership can be obtained after one hour's waiting period, fully explicit copulation and anything else can be seen. In the sex book shops, incidentally, there are plenty of slot machines showing copulation, but not as yet, I believe, with the full display of sexual parts.
Now I should be very sorry if this sort of thing proliferated. There is in many people a sort of curiosity which may induce people to patronise this whether they approve of it or not, and there is always the question of going with the herd, led by the one or two people who are interested. I also think that it would be the greatest pity if we start producing blue films in England, and expose out-of-work artistes to this type of commercial- 1285 ism. One obvious course of action to reduce the blue film problem would be to insist on a much longer period of waiting for membership of these clubs, and I would suggest that this should be at least a week.
Having discussed the harder "porn", I must say that it is often so sordid that it may well do no great harm provided that its spread and openness is controlled. What concerns me much more is the soft "porn", which in my view undermines the fabric of society to a much greater extent. I particularly refer to magazines such as Mayfair and to the Duchess Theatre. Part of an advertisement for one of Mayfair's books includes the following:Dr. Ellis advances original thinking on sex with married women, and lays down rules for success showing how to conduct an affair without detection "—not, I think, a socially desirable type of publication. I can see absolutely no reason why, on the stage and in the public cinema, we should not go back to our previous standards of banning complete nudity. I am afraid that I dismiss entirely any argument about artistic licence in this matter. I seem to remember from the Classics that Petronius made an art of all the vices, and there was no doubt considerable art displayed by the Inquisition torturers.
I think pornographic literature presents the biggest problem so far as control is concerned, because it is so difficult to draw a line, particularly where it masquerades as scientific or useful information. For example, there is the book on the Masters and Johnson's Clinic, where sexy girls were used to help men overcome their problems. There is an illustrated book showing the 42 positions. This is quite a reasonable book from the point of view of information, and it is really only the advertising for it which is, in my view, really deplorable. Probably one cannot go back to censorship and though I might consider it, I can understand people's reluctance to adopt that course or any course which would be effective with literature. But I am sure, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, said, that if we are to reduce pornography and prevent it penetrating promiscuously the Obscene Publications Act 1959 must be amended. Authorities are at present often afraid of prosecuting 1286 even blatant cases because they may fail, which would be a signal for everybody to go one further. As somebody has already pointed out in this Chamber this evening, that is what people try to do, because what one has become used to is no longer really stimulating or shocking. Whatever viewpoint one adopts on this matter, I am certain that even the present legislation has some merit in so far as it keeps up the price of the hard "porn" and prevents its indiscriminate distribution. I do not think it is hypocrisy to try to sweep some of the dirt under the carpet, because it tends to keep the general atmosphere clean.
Finally, I think most of us would feel it important to try to keep dignity and decency in public life, whatever we may think about sexual morality and permissiveness. To do this some action is, in my view, needed, and perhaps what we have heard is proposed by the Government will go some distance in that direction. That is all I want to emphasise on this occasion, but I would say that I think those who deal with this subject purely as armchair critics should at least take some steps to see how rapidly this pornographic literature is spreading, and should form their opinion as to how serious or unfortunate it will be if this spread accelerates in the way I believe it was doing until three months ago.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ LORD SOPER
My Lords, when the announcement of this debate first appeared on the Order Paper I shared with a number of other noble Lords a lack of relish for what was likely to happen. But it is not for that reason that I shall ask the indulgence of your Lordships' House if I leave at a fairly early time as I have an imperative engagement in Cambridge. I felt that I ought to stand up and be counted, so I am standing up, and I hope that I can be counted not only as an individual but, in this case, as a representative of a large section of the Christian Church.
I start with two preconceptions about pornography, and I am not ashamed and I do not apologise for the word "preconceptions". I work on the edge of Soho; I have thought about the matter, I have culled what information I have been able to arrive at and I am satisfied 1287 about two points. The first is that pornography is æsthetically and morally objectionable, whether it is a more delicate shade of grey or that hard "porn" (which, if I may say so, your Lordships have probably never seen), which is an abominable black—as black as pitch. Nevertheless, I believe that there are two considerations, one of which has already been advanced this afternoon, that would invalidate any further attitude on your Lordships' part on such a subject as pornography and would reduce it to the purely private field. The first is that pornography is incapable of definition and therefore cannot intrinsically exist. This is widely said, but it is completely fallacious. Humour is incapable of definition. Hazlitt had a very good shot at it and quite failed; and I remember my grandfather telling me that Jerome K. Jerome, with whom he sat in many boats, often used to discuss humour and came to the conclusion that there was only one permanent element in humour and that was melancholy, which I thought was a curious statement to make. But I have a sense of humour, though I cannot define it; and I have a sense of pornography, and I hate it.
The second consideration which, if it were true, would invalidate any discussion on your Lordships' part is that raised by my noble Leader. If he will not think it entirely impertinent and impudent of me, I wonder whether his syllabic difficulties with the word "reverend" were an indication of his inner unease with the thesis. But at least it seems to me an extraordinary proposition that, of all the occupations to which man can addict himself, pornography is the only one that has no consequences. This seems to me to be utterly fallacious, and it is not borne out by the practical experience of those who repeatedly recognise, if not a causal relationship between pornography and evil practices, at least a statistical one. You find a man who is addicted to stealing and you will also find that he is probably addicted to other forms of vice. You find a man who is addicted to the kind of anti-social habits that belong to a great many young people to-day—and to older people, for that matter—and you will generally discover that pornography is mixed up with them both. If you 1288 look at probation officers and, if I may say so, Methodist ministers and reverend Prelates, the likelihood is in the opposite direction. I feel that this is important and, although there is no direct post hoc, propter hoc argument, or its reverse, that can be agreed upon, it is nevertheless my unbreakable conviction, after some forty years in this field, that pornography is a menace to many, is the accompaniment of a great deal that is evil, and is highly likely to promote the kind of evil which may otherwise exist only in the mind and not come to actuality.
The other preconception is that, undoubtedly, pornography is increasing. One of the ways in which I should regard this debate to-day as being counter-effective is the unfortunate fact that the more the subject is talked about, the more likely it is that some people who would otherwise avoid it will take an interest in it. I confess that I have been presented with facts about hard "porn" of which I knew nothing. I do not think I have been unduly affected by them. I certainly know to what an extent conversation about pornography and the wide discussion of it is far more frequent to-day than it was; and if your Lordships will allow a personal reference, I have just come back from Tower Hill where we spent, not at my choosing, about half an hour in a very, I thought, disreputable and squalid discussion of pornographic matter, which I am sure would not have been stimulated had it not been for the fact that publicity has been widespread. I hope that the results of our debate to-day may lead, not to more discussion but to the application of those things which we may agree are sensible and right, and perhaps some of them in the legal sphere.
So I come to this report somewhat objectively, my Lords, because although I attended the first meeting I was immediately afterwards "hospitalised" and I took no further part in the proceedings. Therefore I can look at it perhaps with some objectivity; and I wonder, in the first instance, whether many of those who have presented the kind of opposition to which very courteous reference has been made to-day have really read it. It is a long and complicated document. I read it assiduously and in some cases 1289 repeatedly; and, if I may, I should like to congratulate those who have formulated its general principles and have finished it off, so to say. I would regard them as having done a piece of work which is to their credit; and I should like personally to say that the sniggers and the titters which have sometimes been directed against Lord Longford and others are utterly disreputable, and I am ashamed of them.
My Lords, it seems to me that I am reinforced in my conviction that pornography is an evil thing by the evidence that has been produced, in one or two cases rather unexpectedly. I would draw your Lordships' attention to the emphasis that is put on the invasion of privacy, which I must say was comparatively new to me. There are some things which are the better for an airing; there are other things which should be kept, surely, within the closer confine of personal and intimate relationships—and the splurging of these matters, even in the milder forms of pornography, is, I think, a denigration of human dignity. But there is a far greater and stronger indictment. I recognise that violence of one sort or another is perhaps the supreme challenge to what we are pleased to call our civilised community, and it seems, to me strange and very disheartening that whereas so many young people are now rebelling against public violence, they are at the same time cosseting private violence. For the close association between the private violence of hard "porn" and indeed violence of many kinds, and the sex act, or the contemplation of the sex act, is no quirk of the sentimentalist. It is a fact; and it is a fact to which I could give chapter and verse if I were so disposed. I would ask your Lordships to believe that, whatever other results may follow from pornographic addiction or interest in pornography, there is in my experience over the years a great attraction to certain forms of private violence which accompanies an undue and, I think, an unhealthy attitude to pornography or to sex.
I come now to one or two criticisms which would, I think, to a certain extent modify my approval of the analytical part of the report. I am not satisfied with the Christian approach. I do not say that as "dog in the manger", because 1290 although I have nothing particular against the Festival of Light a good deal of it is pretty cloudy and overcast, and for me it does not represent the kind of attitude which I would think is and ought to be predominant in a Christian's relationship to pornography. There is still the residual attitude that we in the Churches, and particularly in Nonconformity, are concerned with Puritanism of the less reputable type, and that if people are enjoying themselves the inference may justly be drawn that they are doing something that they should not be doing. I share nothing of that; and I would much rather have seen in the report a stronger emphasis on the place of pornography, not in the private and pious (or lack of it) progress of the individual but in the quest for the Kingdom of God or a just and decent society.
I stand up and talk about pornography, but I should not be prepared to do it unless I was also prepared and ready to stand up and talk about war, injustice and a great many other evils which I think are undoubtedly greater than pornography. The supreme argument against pornography, from the Christian standpoint, is not, surely, that it pollutes the individual soul, but that it stands, even in its milder forms, between the progress that that individual ought to make to a just society and his inability, by the exercise of pornographic tension, to do so. I should have much preferred that the argument from the Christian standpoint had laid more heavily upon the lack of a true intention and a creative and worthwhile instinct in application to this particular field.
My Lords, I want to make one specific reference, and I know I shall be understood when I say that I have a great respect for the large number of people in our modern community who are homosexual. I do not pretend to understand them and I think it is entirely foolish to think that any non-homosexual can so do. But many of them I respect, and in certain places in the report I feel we owe an apology to them. On page 338, for instance, and on page 381 there are references to homosexuals which associate them, by inference, with sadists and others, and this is wrong. I do not pretend to understand how difficult it is for a homosexual to find his way in a 1291 society which is predominately heterosexual. What I do say is that I have lived to see a much more humane and decent attitude to them, and I should not like that record now to be smirched—without any intention, I am sure. I should like to be able to say publicly—and I hope they will hear it—that there is no kind of aspersion which, in an argument against pornography, can properly be attached to one who, by a chance of nature, is homosexual and at the same time is living a decent, fine and contributive life.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, perhaps I may take this opportunity to interrupt the noble Lord, because this seems to be the moment when I should say that I think there are one or two unfortunate references to homosexuals in the report. I take the whole responsibility for any error of that kind, and I side very much with what the noble Lord has just said.
§ LORD SOPER
My Lords, may I now turn to the legal side of the matter for a moment and confess that I am undecided? I am satisfied that there should be a stricter application of the law as it now stands; and I am afraid I can have very little to say in agreement with the general proposition which is so often ventilated by my noble friends on the Liberal Benches, as if freedom is some kind of isolated palm tree in the middle of an otherwise uninhabited island surrounded by an uncharted sea. Freedom is part of the complex of a human relationship, and the better part of freedom is ordered restraint. I am sure that no noble Lord such as, if I may say so, my ecclesiastical friend the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, could have made the speech he did today—eloquent, persuasive and thoughtful—had it not been for the kind of restraint he had endured at school and in his formative years. I think we talk rather stupidly about liberty, as if it is a prime virtue. Liberty is only a prime virtue if it has first been produced out of a situation in which we have sought the good of one another. This is not the beginning of a sermon, but I think a matter of social ethics with which most people would quickly agree. What does seem to me to be above all imperative is that we should protect the young for whatever may be said about the influences for or against 1292 pornography being available to those who are adult (and that, of course, is a very vague word; I am not prepared to specify at what stage or at what age adulthood begins and adolescence ends) surely it is beyond question that there are very few of your Lordships who would tolerate the presence of hard "porn" on your own table, where your own children could make themselves available of it. I believe that the definition of obscenity at which this particular Committee or group of people have arrived is better than the one which has caused endless debate and innumerable difficulties in the past.
But what most I believe (and I wish to conclude on this point) is that it is necessary to create or at least to try to create a climate where people have something better to do than to waste their time with the dirty business of pornography, a better climate economically where there will not be so many rascals making money out of other people's weaknesses or inferior habits and where there will not be a kind of lapse from any sense of purpose. It is to recreate the sense of a community full of purpose that perhaps is a modification of what has already been said about the restrictions implied and applied in Communist China. I do not necessarily agree with all that was said or shown in the last few weeks about Communist China. The fact that most of the people taking part in it never glanced at the camera seemed a sinister comment to make on the (shall I say?) spontaneity of their efforts. Nevertheless, it is true there is within the framework of an overall sense of public responsibility and a desire for community welfare, a good reason for having nothing to do with the dirty business of pornography.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords. I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Soper. May I say how much I enjoyed his vigorous and luminous statement on the Christian attitude to pornography? I am sure that all noble Lords feel the same. I must also thank my noble friend Lord Ferrier for having very kindly given me his place so that I could make my contribution to this debate. Unfortunately, I have an appointment at 6.30 p.m. which I cannot ignore and therefore I hope that your Lordships will excuse me if I leave the House.
1293 I begin by thanking the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, I think that he is very relevant and I think that his debate is very relevant; because I take the same view as Lord Soper, that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has made a major contribution with his report. We may not agree with everything in the report, but it is a major achievement and as I sec it—not everybody agrees with him: but I agree with him—what he has done is for the first time to give a lead to public opinion. He has been able, in the broad sense of his report, to express the anxiety of millions of people (possibly even of most of our people) that the growing flood of pornography which is permeating our country is becoming an increasing danger to the life of the community. This is a great achievement and the noble Earl has my warmest congratulations.
This week, as it happens—and this is something to which the right reverend Prelate referred—the Court of Appeal, in the mouth of the Master of the Rolls and his learned colleagues, expressed the view—and I am sure that noble Lords have given full weight to it—that the law as it stands now is largely unenforceable and that really it is the duty of Parliament to look at this again. Here is another full justification for the right reverend Prelate's initiating this debate.
My Lords, I must say that I found the noble Earl's report a tough proposition to read. I do not say that I agree with all of it; but I found that in the main it was comprehensive, certainly highly informative, and I thought that large sections of it were very fairly argued. It is a major achievement judged by any standards. There are only two points that I want to make on it. The first is on the intrinsic merit of the report and its recommendations; the second is an attempt to answer the question posed by the report: what next? I agree with its conclusions that a clarification and strengthening of the law is needed; but let me add that I am not advocating a strengthening of the law with the intention of suppressing vice. I accept that vice is an inevitable part of human nature and that legislation against it is useless, and possibly worse than useless. The objective in my opinion is the restraint of commercial exploitation of vice by 1294 pornographic material. That is what I want to restrain and that I believe is what most, if not all of us, want to do. We know that it has now become big business, international business, and a good deal of it is imported into this country. It is evidently increasing in volume and making a great deal of money.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is no longer in his place because I should like to say a word or two (although I shall not take too long because there are so many other speakers to follow) in answer to the noble Lord's argument that there is no evidence that pornography does harm. I listened with great interest to the noble Lord's speech. I thought it a most valuable, and indeed essential, contribution to this debate; because, after all, this view has to a large extent held the field up to now. The activities of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, with his Committee and the report, and the general feeling expressed by the community has arisen only because the state of the law as it now is has given rise to this ever-increasing flood of pornography. When the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, pleaded that it was not an easy line for him to take, I am not sure that he is alone in that. I do not think it is easy for any of us to take part in this debate. We all find it difficult to command our feelings and to reach a useful, objective conclusion. Nevertheless, I accept that there are serious arguments that we have to try to answer. The report produces some evidence in answer to Lord Shackleton's point that no harm comes from it, but at the end of the day this must be a matter of judgment. I am bound to say that I find myself in the same field as the noble Lord, Lord Soper, that pornography is corrupting and is a menace both to adults and to the young. But essentially to the young, I regard it as a serious danger.
Let us look at one or two notable pieces of legislation which we have had in the last decade; for instance, the Race Relations Act. It would have been impossible to find the necessary evidence to support that; but most people on all sides felt that this would in the main help to form opinion, to create a certain climate which would be helpful in this very important field. As for the Street Offences Act, it would have been 1295 extremely difficult to find evidence to support that piece of legislation. Yet we passed it and the result has been that the prostitutes have disappeared from the streets. I do not say they have disappeared altogether; but at least we are no longer importuned and the disreputability which London was gaining has been removed.
The concern of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was for the young; and I was glad to find myself in agreement with him here. But I would ask this question of him and other noble Lords who feel the same as he does. Is it really possible to protect the young from the corrupting effect of pornographic material if it is freely circulating among adults—and ever more freely circulating, as is now happening? We know that those who are peddling pornography are using ever more forceful methods to canvass the community to get more customers. Therefore it is spreading; and there is a lot of money in it. Inevitably, this increasingly exposes the young to this material. Looked at solely as a matter of protecting the young from this corruption, my own conclusion is that it is impossible to protect them if the adult community is to be exposed to it in the quantities we are now seeing. The report says, my Lords, that the law needs strengthening so that successful prosecution in proper cases would be less difficult (I agree with that, and I was glad to see that the Court of Appeal gave that view powerful support) and that on conviction penalties should be heavier. That also to me seems to be right.
Coming now to the major legislative recommendation in the report; that is, the new definition of obscenity, it might be worth reading it again although the right reverend Prelate did quote it to us:An article or a performance of a play is obscene if its effect, taken as a whole, is to outrage contemporary standards of decency or humanity accepted by the public at large.Thus the test, my Lords, is what outrages ordinary standards of decency and humanity. I agree with that; I think that that is a good test. This seems to me to get the right balance between the twin dangers of corruption of the community by pornography on the one hand and the censorship of free expression on 1296 the other. I would have hoped that this would go a long way to meet the powerful arguments adduced by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton.
In my judgment, the point at which publications outrage the feelings of the average person is the point at which the freedom of the individual is under attack—and freedom of expression has indeed become licensed. There can be no moral defence of that. I should have thought that Lord Soper's expression of view on this aspect was luminous indeed. I should also have thought that the report's recommendation that the defence of public good should be dropped is justified. In the major cases of prosecution that have been taken the defence arguments have gone to really ridiculous lengths in using this particular defence. So I agree with the report about that.
Coming to my second point, the report asks, "What next?" My starting point, my Lords, is that the Government have a basic responsibility to care for the moral life of the nation—all Governments have—and I was glad to hear my noble friend Lady Young's speech. The Longford Report, in my opinion, confirms that there is a danger, and that it is growing; and this, as I say, has been confirmed by the Court of Appeal. Therefore there is a strong case for amending legislation. I would not press my noble friends on the Government Front Bench to proceed immediately to amending legislation because I recognise the enormous difficulties of moving in this field. I recognise the weight of the arguments put so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley; and no doubt they will be supported by other noble Lords as well. So I would not say that we should proceed immediately; but I feel that Governments should now be preparing to take some action in this regard.
The report recommends setting up a voluntary advisory committee and I think that this is a good idea. It would be a focus for complaint. It would provide a source of education; a source for investigation and research. It might perhaps produce an annual report which would help people to see what was happening and to get a better understanding of the whole picture. This is something for which the Government, if it were thought 1297 wise, might make a grant. The Government might say, "Here is a field where there is danger to the community similar to the dangers on the road. We will treat it in the same way as we do the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and give a grant. The rest of the money they will raise from private sources." This, I think, the Government should consider.
I should have thought that the Government also should consider setting up a full-dress inquiry into this matter, a Royal Commission; not as a means of side-tracking, but as a preparation for legislation. The summary of my advice to my noble friends is that the combined weight of the report of the Longford Committee and the observations made by the Court of Appeal this week indicate that there is a real obligation for action by the Government now; and that it would be pusillanimous for them to do nothing in the face of the dangers to which the moral life of the nation is now being exposed.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, I should like to thank the right reverend Prelate for introducing this Motion. So far in this debate I agree with my noble Leader, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and with every single word that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said. I am afraid that I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Soper, but I always listen to him with pleasure and with respect and affection—I cannot help it. I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on her speech which I enjoyed and with almost all of which I agreed, especially her remarks on sex education.
I think that this inquiry of my noble friend Lord Longford could more accurately be described, without any disrespect, as a symposium; that is, a collection of opinions. Despite the protestations that the Report is concerned only with pornography, it deals largely with sexual behaviour and, except for one or two, like Maurice Yaffé and Frank Gillard most of its contributors make no pretence at being objective. Most of them joined the Committee with closed minds that had already been made up. My Lords, any frank discussion of sexual habits and morals 1298 quickly reveals the fact that views expressed are subject to conscious and unconscious falsification. We can all plead public concern about pornography, about crime, about life in general, and can join in a great lament. It would be unfair in a short speech to start giving quotations which began by making me sceptical, then critical, then disbelieving and, finally, mystified. Only a" Longford dictionary of quotations" could illustrate the obscurantist approach to their subject of nearly all the contributors. I will give just two small examples which stick in my throat. One is from a correspondent who said: "Hypocrisy is better than obscenity"—whatever that means. And the other is from David Holbrook's tortured exposition of sex:The politics of pornography would appear to be intrinsically Fascistic.Again, I do not know what that means.
Throughout most of the report sex and pornography are mixed up with violence and crime, with the suggestion that, somehow, permissive sex leads to violence and crime; and, in one particular bit, to murder—the Manson murders. But the shoals of condemnation and indignation dredged up in the report fail to explain any of this. When I think of instances of the obscene tarring and feathering in Ireland I wonder which comes first, violence or sex as puritanism. Unlike the noble Viscount, Lord Han-worth, I am at a slight disadvantage in this debate because I have not actually seen, but have only heard of, examples of hard pornography; I have only read about them. I am not acquainted with those mechanical aids which can be described as the machine tools of the sex industry. Even here I cannot see the law being effective, except against offensive display, because it is not inconceivable that those who are interested in this kind of thing could devise a "do-it-yourself" kit. I feel that this whole business of hard pornography has been greatly exaggerated. Thousands like myself have never seen any of it. I would agree that pictures and displays of gross indecency, offensive to people, should be brushed under the carpet or placed under the counter. On balance, however, I am opposed to all forms of literary censorship, because the result of banning books and plays would be inimical to truth and freedom.
1299 My most serious criticism of the report is its attitude to sex education, which I see as a great threat to the progress that has been made in this field over the last 50 years. The attempt to brand the sex education of young children by the B.B.C. as pornographic is monstrous, seeing that it was under the control of the Schools Broadcasting Council, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, a very responsible body which has mandatory authority. Mr. Malcolm Muggeridge blamed the B.B.C. without even getting his facts right. Because one or two people may be insensitive and even coarse in their presentation of the physical facts to children—and it is the parents who are frightened into fits about this, not the children—there is no need to be so reactionary. The proposal that it should be illegal to show children, under educational auspices, material which may not be shown in a public place would turn an anatomy textbook for medical students into a primer on pornography. The gist of what the Committee recommend runs something like this. We must protect our children—and this has been echoed constantly throughout this debate. How? By keeping them ignorant—the Peter Pan syndrome. Many sex educators and councillors think that most adolescents when given appropriate and explicit sex information which satisfies their natural curiosity have their interest in pornography reduced. Personally, my Lords, I think that sex education should be given in stages, sensitively, delicately and honestly presented, from a very young age. Otherwise, we shall never have a generation of parents who can talk to, instruct and guide their children about sex. This is one of the greatest stumbling blocks between parents and children to-day.
We have come a long way in the last fifty years. The Family Planning Association and the Health Education Council have not had it easy with their propaganda. The fear of being accused of condoning loose sexual morals has been a brake on progress in this respect. I cannot take the doom-watch warning throughout the report too seriously. I do not believe that society to-day is on the decline and fall, more than it has been in the past, and especially on the decline and fall because of a more open and 1300 honest approach to sex relations. There is of course the commercial aspect of pornography, which is absolutely horrible. But how do we isolate and curb this in a materialistic age and in a market economy? No one has given me the answer this afternoon; and I am not very convinced about the legal curbs. After all, what about the chocolate-coated pornography of the James Bond books? People seem to have completely forgotten about them.
My Lords, there is one glaring omission from this report, which includes the opinion of many writers, psychologists and other distinguished people. A year ago there was published a book by Geoffrey Borer called Sex and Marriage in England Today. This is a statistical survey and should be compulsory reading for all the members of the Longford Committee. It is a piece of research on the current social scene setting out the views of many people on marriage, love, sex, et cetera. The survey has taken a stratified random sample from electoral registers in 100 Parliamentary constituencies. The samples range through every class, not just the liberal middle-class. The under 45's were questioned by experienced interviewers from the Opinion Research Centre, and the results written up by Geoffrey Borer. His conclusions show that the liberal middle-class intellectual Londoner is the non-typical English person. Over 1,000 men and over 1,000 women were questioned. Among other conclusions, here are a few. Eighty-six per cent. of women and 46 per cent. of men married the first person they had been intimate with. Even among the young, the beneficial effect of pre-marital sex was not readily accepted—though there seems recently to have been a slight shift in this respect.
The majority of the unmarried having intercourse do not regularly use contraceptives, and when they do they are often very inefficient ones. This answers the point in the report which says that nurses and other people become pregnant just as easily as other people who have not access to such information. A quarter of each sex are repelled by homosexuality and they have no compassion or understanding of it. Forty per cent. of men and 34 per cent. of women thought that a woman could be in love with two men at once and 40 per cent. of both 1301 sexes thought that a man could be in love with two women at the same time. But the most interesting statistic to me was that 21 per cent. of men and 18 per cent. of women think that people do not really fall in love. I say this because the Longford Report is liberally sprinkled with the word "love". One feels that, difficult as it is to define the words "pornography" and "obscenity", it is far more difficult to define the word "love" in personal relationships.
Finally, my Lords, I have little sympathy for the obscurantist way in which the report is written; for the turgid language of some of the writers, occasionally quite incomprehensible, which I think does not lend itself to an objective inquiry and to the enlightenment which is necessary in this field for reform.
§ 5.19 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, I rise to speak, with typical episcopal brevity, for three reasons. The first is that I am always very concerned lest when a matter like this is debated, and the debate is opened by a Bishop, the impression is spread abroad that the Church is taken up more by being against sin, like the bishop in the Queen's Silver Wedding speech, than being for goodness. While of course any honest historian must admit that there have been periods when the so-called protection of purity has been largely associated with puritanical repression, and while undoubtedly there have been similar periods when the repressive censorship of the Church would have been the despair of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, it should never be forgotten that those periods were the result of a perversion of Christianity and not Christianity in its true form. For since the first century joy has been the official mark of the Christian.
Your Lordships will no doubt remember that when the Governor of Bythinia, young Pliny, wrote to Whitehall (it was then called Rome) asking what should be done with these people called Christians who refused to sacrifice to the Emperor, Whitehall (then called Rome) wrote back saying they had no precedent and asking for more information. Pliny replied that, so far as he could tell, 1302 the Christians did the following things: they got up early, had a common meal, sang a hymn and were joyful. And that joy has been the true mark of the Christian ever since. I myself hope to see again the Church being the patron and encourager of all that is best in art, drama, music and true gaiety, and being the provider and nurturer of all fiat gives to people, especially young people, the best that the word "recreation" can mean.
Secondly, with great respect I would, as a new boy, wish to challenge and help to rebut the criticisms so often voiced—and, alas! voiced this afternoon by the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton—that to care for one aspect of morality means that one ignores or tends to ignore other equally important aspects. This, I submit, is false.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, if I might interrupt the right reverend Prelate, I do not know that I used those precise words.
THE LORD BISHOP OF GUILDFORD
With great respect, I venture to think that the impression given by the noble Lord was very definitely that, though I hesitate from the Lower Fourth to contradict the Upper Sixth. Just because we are to-day engaged in discussing the obscenity of pornography, it certainly does not mean that any of us are less aware of the obscenities of slums or of poverty—least of all Prelates, who have worked in the middle of both of these; indeed, many of us still do.
Thirdly, the most important part of the Longford Report, to me, is the chapter called "Sex Education"—a title which is as inadequate as it is commonly, and I think, wrongly, used and which certainly does less than justice to the recommendations made in the report. The biology of sex is one thing; the morality and situational ethics of sex represent other things. Far too often they are separated. They must surely be related, and I suggest that the phrase "personal relationships", which I was delighted to hear mentioned by the noble Baroness, describes far more fully the type of education needed for life—for life means people meeting people.
The total inadequacy of the biology of sex being sufficient is well put by the 1303 noble Lord, Lord Platt, in his biography, Private and Controversial (the only criticism of which is that it is appallingly expensive), when he writes about the medical education of doctors in this way:…. the young doctor in his early university years is still, in most Medical Schools, made to study man as a machine and man as a corpse but never as a person.…. By the time he commences clinical work his youthful enthusiasm may have left him, he has been conditioned to think of man as a machine, and illness as a defect in the machine which requires all the resources of modern medical science to detect it and put it right. One of the duties of his medical teachers is to give him a greater understanding of the patient and his attitude to illness.He goes on:Of course, I shall be criticised once again for tilting at the academics, but can you imagine any organisation except a university which would send doctors into the world without any sex education of any kind except purely anatomical or chemical?Here indeed is strong support for my view about personal relationships.
I think, my Lords, that few of us would wish to disagree with the Longford Report's recommendation that it ought to be parents who, first and consistently, give instruction on personal relationships. But may I ask your Lordships, as parents—do we? Do your Lordships do so—have your Lordships done so? Perhaps we might have some self-examinations and possibly some confessions later. I speak as a parent, and so indeed does the noble Earl, Lord Longford, with his scintillating covey of brilliant progeny. I ask: does embarrassment or even ignorance impede us? If your Lordships will forgive a personal element, I would mention that my wife is a doctor who, apart from her clinics, has spent a great deal of her spare time over the last 15 years lecturing on personal relationships to schoolboys and schoolgirls, to parent/ teacher associations and to new entrants in the nursing services and in the Women's Royal Army Corps. Naturally, as parents, we have discussed dozens of questions which most frequently come from both children and parents, and also we do a "double act" which we call "Bringing Up Parents".
I think it is difficult to overestimate, until these questions are seen, the apparent ignorance of too many parents about the actual biological information for 1304 which children ask, or the difficulty facing so many parents who try to cope in the expression of their views on the whole realm of personal relationships, when dealing with their own or other people's children. I imagine that your Lordships will be aware how ruthlessly, though sometimes charmingly, children at a very early age can see through hypocrisy, half-truths or the sheer lack of full knowledge. Well do I remember some years ago when suddenly—and it is always suddenly, is it not?—one of my small sons asked me one of those questions which clearly means, Father: tell me the facts of life."Mindful of my tuition under my doctor wife that children should be given short, clear answers which are easily understood, I proceeded to do exactly that. On went my cross-examination: on went my answers, short and concise. As time went on and the water got colder, I was congratulating myself on the ease with which these things could be done and wondering why all the fuss was made by parents over the matter of telling children the so-called facts of life. Then eventually, after half an hour or more, there was a pause and my small son said, "Well, thanks very much, Dad. I suppose I had better ask Mummy. She really knows!"
Therefore, I offer strong support for the suggestion that the Department of Education and Science should co-operate with local authorities in providing courses for parents and teachers in association with doctors and those concerned with the moral welfare of children. I would plead that all sex education should be taught in the context of personal relationships, as the noble Lord, Lord Platt, suggests, rather than simply as "technical instruction". I believe that if this is done, when our children pick up any deadly thing—whatever sort of pornography it may be—it will not hurt them. I believe that we shall have gone a considerable way towards ensuring that the natural instincts and affections implanted by God will be hallowed and directed aright. I believe, my Lords, that we owe this to our children.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ LORD FLETCHER
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has very kindly allowed me to intervene at this 1305 stage. Unfortunately, I shall be unable to stay for very long in your Lordships' House because of having to leave for another engagement. However, I shall speak very briefly and on a very narrow point.
This debate has covered a very wide field. I wish to deal not with the broad philosophical questions which have occupied the minds of so many Members of your Lordships' House, but with the rather narrower legal questions. I do so because I had some responsibility for the preparation of the chapter in the Longford Committee's report dealing with the legal aspects of this subject and in preparing the text of the Bill which the Longford Committee suggested should be introduced in order to change the present laws. May I remind your Lordships that the Obscene Publications Act 1939 was introduced and passed for the purpose of strengthening the law against pornography.I think it will be generally agreed that the Act of 1939—
§ LORD FLETCHER
I am sorry my Lords, 1959. That Act has signally failed in that respect and, as the Master of the Rolls and his two colleagues said in a notable judgment the other day, the Act has misfired; it has failed to implement the purposes for which it was passed and the intentions with which Parliament passed it.
Whatever else one may think, I hope it will be generally agreed that the present law is in need of reform. There may well be differences of opinion as to how the law should be reformed; but what we have done in the chapter to which I have referred is to suggest a suitable method of reforming the existing law in order to deal with the way in which it has been misapplied and misinterpreted, and the confusion which has been brought about as is quite clearly evidenced from the numerous cases in which the law has been dealt with.
The existing law has failed broadly in two respects: first, by introducing the defence of the public good and enabling expert witnesses to be called about the literary and scientific merits, or otherwise, of a particular publication.—It has, 1306 perhaps inadvertently, enabled those expert witnesses not merely to deal with the literary or other merits of a particular publication, but also to give their opinion (which they were not supposed to do) as to whether the particular publication was in fact obscene or not. 'Chat was a matter that was intended by Parliament to be left entirely to the discretion of the jury.
The other way in which the existing Act has failed to give effect to the intentions of Parliament is the unfortunate reproduction in the present law of the phrase first introduced a very long time ago, defining obscenity as "something which had a tendency to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely to read it" The result of that definition has caused continuous confusion to juries who have had to consider prosecutions. As the Master of the Rolls said the other day,That test could be used skilfully to obtain an acquittal by a piece of sophistry: if the likely readers were those already depraved and corrupt, this item would not mike them more so; but if the likely readers were just ordinary sort of folk they would be so revolted that they would be turned away from it. That argument was called, `the aversion argument It was so plausible that the courts had held that, when raised by the defence, it must be put to the jury. If it was not, the conviction might be quashed.That was the result in a number of cases.
Starting therefore from the proposition that I think would be generally agreed, and which was so forcefully slated in the Court of Appeal the other day, that some change in the law is necessary if the intentions of Parliament are to be observed, I would remind your Lordships of the specific proposals which are recommended in the chapter of the Longford Committee report. We suggest—and I do not think this will be seriously disputed by any of those who have spokes: to-day—that in the interest of protecting the young and avoiding the public exhibition of indecency, it should in future be an offence for a person to exhibit or distribute in a street or other public place any written, pictorial or other material which is indecent. That would leave it open to the jury to decide whether they were offended or not. It would do a great deal to reduce the appalling public display of indecent material which affronts so many people in Tottenham Court Road, Soho, and other places, and the continuous display of indecent material 1307 on public bookstalls to which all persons of any age have access.
The second change which we recommend is that the present confusing and anomalous definition of obscenity should be replaced by another one. No one would suggest that these words are incapable of improvement, or are not open to comment, but we suggest that the revised test of obscenity should be:An article or a performance of a play if its effect taken as a whole is to outrage contemporary standards of decency or humanity acceptable to the public at large.If the defence of public good is a matter on which expert evidence could be given, there again this would be a simple matter for a jury, chosen at random, to decide. It would be an objective test and would have relation to contemporary standards, which admittedly change from time to time, of decency or humanity. If it were thought that there was something extraordinary in the introduction of the word "outrage" I would remind your Lordships that "outrage" is a very strong word, and here I quote what Lord Simon of Glaisdale said recently in a reported decision:Outraging public decency' goes considerably beyond offending the susceptibilities of, or even shocking, reasonable people.My Lords, I promised to be brief. I want to conclude by saying that I hope as a result of this debate, which has ranged over a wide field, Her Majesty's Government will recognise what has been said by a number of speakers this afternoon, and recently reinforced by the Court of Appeal, that the present law calls for revision; and I hope that we shall have an announcement from the Government that they intend to introduce a Bill to change the present law, failing which I hope that a Private Bill for that purpose will be introduced, either in this House or in another place, in order that the debate on this subject confined to the legal aspects may be continued.
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, I had intended, according to the order of the debate, to speak after the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who is the originator of all this bother. I gather that by some rearrangement I am not to be afforded that opportunity. However, I have read the report—
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, but I am greatly interested in the procedures of this House. I should like to learn all about this. Could the noble Lord say how it was that he arranged to speak after my noble friend Lord Longford?
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, certainly I can say it. I did not arrange it. When I arrived at your Lordships' House I found the order of debate, and naturally I intended to speak in accordance with the order of debate.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LEICESTER
My Lords, I saw on the list the word "after" written against the name of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. What it meant I do not know, but I merely report the fact.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, I accept the noble Lord's explanation; but it was the use of the word "intended", and the emphasis the noble Lord put on it, which gave rise to some misapprehension.
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, may I clarify this mystery by saying that I telephoned the Government Whip's Office to find out where I was speaking. I was told the order in which I was speaking, and that I was speaking after the noble Earl, Lord Longford. As it is not necessary in this debate for one to make very elaborate preparation in relation to one's speech I expected that I would be afforded the opportunity, after hearing the noble Earl, Lord Longford, to make certain comments on his speech. That is the whole of the mystery attaching to this matter. There was no corruption, no bribery, no coercion, no attempt whatsoever to secure an advantageous place. I regarded it as slightly fortunate that I was going to speak after the noble Earl, Lord Longford, but that is another matter. However, what I have to say can be said just as valuably, or just as valuelessly, in the order in which I am now speaking.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, may I ask whether we may be told when the noble Earl, Lord Longford, is going to speak? A number of us are confused by the procedure.
§ BARONESS LEE OF ASHERIDGE
My Lords, may I further ask whether we may not take it as a rule that when we see the order of speaking, that will be 1309 the order in which noble Lords are called? I do not know why a mystery has been made of this.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, if I may help, it is not unusual for one noble Lord to change places with another. As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Fletcher, as he has already told the House. I believe, because he has to go early, has taken the place of my noble friend Lord Longford, who in turn has taken his place.
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, I should have thought it was quite unusual for a principal participant such as Hamlet to give way to Polonius. However, I do not think we need occupy the time of the House further in discussing the order in which the speeches are made.
My Lords, may I commence by saying that it was not my intention to inflict on your Lordships a speech from myself. Up to this morning my intention was to regard this debate as something of a non-event, for reasons which I shall explain. But I was telephoned earlier this morning by a prominent Member of your Lordships' House who requested that I should participate in the debate. Hence, I abandoned those engagements in which I should have been peacefully engaged, to my own mild and modest personal profit, and came here to make the speech I was requested to make.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, should I be breaking any secrecy if I were to reveal the fact that I saw the noble Lord's name down yesterday on the list of speakers?
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, may I assure the noble Earl that the mysteries of this House cannot be explained by me. It was not until this morning that I telephoned to accede to a request that I should speak, although I had been asked several weeks earlier whether I would speak and had said that I would not. If your Lordships wish me to dilate for a further half-hour on the circumstances in which I speak, I shall be happy to do so; if I may continue with the observations that are germane to this debate, I shall equally be pleased to do so. I was saying that it was not my intention to speak, for the very simple reason—though I 1310 have the deepest admiration for the noble Earl and a considerable degree of affection, and I hope that I may claim a good deal of friendship with him—that I did not regard it as a possibility that any serious body of people would regard this report as a serious contribution to public business. It was on that basis that I reached the conclusion that we could all be better occupied in doing other things than discussing the report. Having made a statement of such stringency and positive severity, it is right that I should justify it.
The circumstances of this report are these. The noble Earl propounded a Motion in this House on which we all spoke on the subject of pornography. A few, like myself, said that it was not the most crucial issue of the day. This I still believe to be the case. Many people come to complain to me about the incidence of V.A.T.; about the imminent arrival of the Common Market, which some support and some do not; about the iniquities or benevolences of the Industrial Relations Act. I have not had a single human being ever come to me to say: "What is wrecking this country to-day is pornography." I do not believe that any sane human being entertains that belief. There may or may not be some increase in pornography, but the first feature of this report is its total failure to establish whether there has been an increase or a diminution, or whether the level is maintained, as it ought to be, at a decent common denominator.
There is nothing in this report that remotely resembles a scientific investigation of anything. There are 54 surviving members of the Committee, shown on the frontispiece. How anyone could hope to investigate anything with the assistance of 54 people gathered together in council, I do not know. The most startling feature of the whole report is the total impossibility of gleaning from it which of the 54 members supports what. One can extract from this report every conceivable opinion on the question of censorship. For instance, I go along heartily with a splendid comment by the Bishop of Stepney. I should like to read it to your Lordships. Your Lordships will find it at page 191, according to the copy which the noble 1311 Lord so kindly sent me. At page 191 there occurs this most elegant and I think valuable phrase:Censorship or its equivalent can inspire nobody for the kind of crusade that is needed amongst us to-day.I shall be very surprised indeed if that is the general tenor of the noble Earl's observations when he comes to tell us what the report contains. Yet here, firmly imprinted in the very middle of the book, is a statement that is totally at variance with every recommendation that is made at the end of it.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I cannot let that remark go. That is of course a total mis-statement, so gross that I think the noble Lord really cannot have read the report, though he was kind enough to give evidence, and his own evidence is among the most valued treasures which we possess.
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, the mystery of my movements increases minute by minute. I never gave evidence of any kind to this Committee. Had they asked me to give evidence, the terms in which I should have refused might have been positively inelegant. What happened was that the noble Earl wrote to me to say that he would very much welcome my advice on the best method of presenting the report, from a public relations and publicity point of view, when it emerged. Since, as I say, I value the noble Earl and was hoping to save him from some of the errors he has since perpetrated, I wrote a letter to him which he has reproduced in the report.
§ LORD GOODMAN
Certainly, my Lords; I am not saying that it was done without my permission. But the difference between that and giving evidence is very real and very profound, and very significant. I gave no evidence; I would not have given any evidence because I do not think the noble Earl had a Committee which was capable of assessing the evidence, or to have been there at all.
When the noble Earl, in his Motion before this House suggested that he was going to set up a private committee, my friendly and emphatic advice to him was that he should do no such thing. The 1312 wisdom of that advice has been totally confirmed by this document. He lacked not the zeal, not the moral qualities, not the intelligence: for all of those he has in very high abundance. But he lacked the qualifications in terms of social investigation to carry out an investigation of this kind. What he has done is a very grave disservice to the techniques of social investigation, if I may be permitted to say so. To pretend that this is a report at all, and to convey the impression that a number of gentlemen have surveyed the evidence, considered the evidence, and arrived at cogent conclusions, is slightly deceptive, and rather more than slightly deceptive, of the public at large.
It would be of interest to examine just a few fragments of the so-called evidence that appears in this report. These, I think, are very typical of what little there is. If your Lordships will look at the chapter which is called, "Effects—A Few Examples", you will see that two illustrations are given. One is of a youth, or it may be an adult, who wrote a letter to say:The most important thing about pornography I have found is that it does literally corrupt. In all boys' schools, like … school, pornography plays an important part of the average boy's life.This individual, having presumably attended one school, is accepted as an expert on what goes on in all schools. Can one conceive of any serious investigation remotely concerned with a scientific assessment of the evidence that would have inserted this letter at all, and particularly that startling paragraph? The writer then goes on to say:In the boarding house, the effect of pornography is very noticeable. The fact is that pornography does not satisfy, but rather builds up people's emotions.Then, another person writes to say that he went to a school where, on account of the pornography that was to be found in the school, two boys had been taken into the prefects' room.… they were separately made to look through the book while the prefects gave a lesson explaining the pictures. Each boy was then taken back to the bed, stripped and masturbated, while the next was told to look at the wall.This piece of interesting evidence is supported by no inquiry as to who the boys were; no investigation of their doctor or their parents; no investigation of any 1313 confirmatory evidence of any kind. It is simply a statement, made by somebody at large, which is inserted as a positive con-elusion of the facts it seeks to establish. In any court of law it would be greeted with such derision that no counsel would have had the effrontery to present it as evidence of anything. Yet it is accepted as the sort of material to which we, serious-minded people concerned with legislating for the public at large, should attach importance for the purpose of determining our legislative programme, I could go on for hours demonstrating the same sort of material in this report, which disqualifies it totally from serious consideration as a social document.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LEICESTER
My Lords, may I just remind the noble Lord that the terms of reference of the Committee were to see what means of tackling the problem of pornography would command general support. That was the unifying task in the work of the Committee, not a purely scientific survey of the extent or growth or even the results of pornography.
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, may I say to the right reverend Prelate with the greatest respect that that does not really deal with the problem. This document was accepted by the Press and largely advertised as a document which established the existence of a problem. To presuppose the existence of a problem would have rendered the document totally useless and unnecessary. It is not a question of knowing how to deal with pornography; it is a question of knowing what quantity of pornography there is to deal with, whether it has increased or not increased and whether in fact it constitutes a public menace. As I have said, there is not a single word in this document in which anyone has tried to assess what the quantity of pornography was before we started, what the quantity of pornography is now, and what it ought to be or ought not to be.
Assuming it to be a possibility to conduct a scientific investigation of this character—and I am rather inclined to the view that the American report may establish that it is a matter of grave difficulty in scientific terms—I submit that the way to start it is for the Committee to devise its own definition of 1314 pornography. It should say, "For our own purpose pornography is"—this, that or the other. "Then we shall apply that test to the amount of suspect material that exists to see whether or not it is still of the same quantity or an increased quantity or of a reduced quantity. "It did not even enter the innocent heads of the Committee that this was the right way to approach the matter. If they had engaged someone who was versed in these techniques—to whom this document must be a total affront—and had given consideration to the possibility that they might even need to produce a report which did not in the end confirm their existing prejudices (because there is not a word in this report which could not have been written without the investigation and without bothering the numbers of people who were brought in evidence, or so-called evidence, before them); if they had even contemplated the possibility that as a result of an investigation one might arrive at a conclusion which was contrary to one's existing preconception, a very different document might have been produced.
I do not want to say more about the report. The noble Earl has produced a report in circumstances of total probity, total good faith and a sincere and burning passion that it represents a social document. When he comes to speak, at whatever stage he finally makes utterance, I shall be astonished if that is not what he says; if he does not say that this is a valuable social document concerning a deplorable situation. May I say to him, with absolutely equal sincerity, that it is not a valuable social document, it confirms nothing and it does little credit to the people who produced it.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, may I just say one thing to the noble Lord now, because he is not always able to stay to the end of these debates. In case he is not here when I speak I would tell him that I am not going to confine myself to defending our own report. I may have some very sharp things to say about the oration which has just fallen from the noble Lord's lips.
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, may I say that I have borne sharp things in my time and if one is impelled to say things 1315 that one believes one must accept the consequence that those who believe otherwise will say sharp things about one. As to whether or not I shall be here when the noble Earl finally utters, that will depend upon when the mystery of his speech is finally resolved.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, may I say that it used to be a tradition when I first came to this House that if one took part in a debate one stayed until the end.
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, may I make my position absolutely clear on that matter, for now and for future purposes? If the price I have to pay for participating in the debates of this House is that I am unable to discharge the other many duties that I have, then I fear I must forever remain silent, which no doubt would be a situation which noble Lords would bear with great courage and great fortitude. Whatever the tradition may have been in the past, no such tradition was enjoined upon me when I was invited and honoured by a request to join your Lordships' House, and I fear that I cannot conform to it. Having made that position clear—
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord might possibly observe what is a common custom, and that is that when the noble Lord finds himself in this position he apologises to the House and explains the circumstances briefly.
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, I never make a speech without apologising to the House at least five times. May I now utter a blanket apology for all future occasions, that when I am not here to listen to the rest of the debate it will only be because engagements so pressing and urgent have prevented me from staying. Certainly I will make personal and detailed explanations on each occasion when I must depart before the conclusion of a debate, because it would be my wish to remain. I am interested in the debates, but it so happens that I have a life which is singularly tortured by the sort of treadmill that voluntarily I have allowed myself to be put on.
If I may now return to the debate and leave the question of my own activities, 1316 may I make these observations. We have had urged upon us the suggestion that there is an immense increase in volume of pornography that needs to be dealt with. I do not believe this to be true. First, I believe that if there is any increase in pornography it is almost entirely a metropolitan problem, and a problem of the large metropolis. I do not believe that if you go to Bath, or if you go to Hereford, or if you go to Harrogate or to one hundred and one other pleasant and agreeable cities you will find the police of those cities preoccupied with questions of pornography. They might in some cases, for traffic reasons, be concerned with matters of drug addiction, although I do not think on any great scale; but so far as pornography is concerned this is a metropolitan problem and almost entirely a problem of London. It is a problem if not only of London, of the great cities. It is not a problem of the majority of communities in this country.
The second point I should like to make is that we proceed on the assumption that every social ill is capable of repair by legislation. I think this is a dangerous assumption and an assumption that ought to be challenged at the earliest opportunity. I notice a very considerable attendance in the ranks of the right reverend Prelates and, if I may say so, one would expect to find that in a debate of this kind. I say that without any intention of being otherwise than totally serious. The right reverend Prelates will remember better than anyone that the Ten Commandments are the most solemn injunctions ever imposed on mankind. Very few of those have ever been found capable of being incorporated into any legislative framework. You cannot by law secure that people honour their fathers and mothers; you cannot secure that they do not cast covetous eyes on the possessions of their neighbours; you cannot secure that almost any of those prohibitions can be matters of legislative action. When those vital prohibitions are not capable of being included in any legislative framework, why should we suppose that a matter such as pornography, which by the side of them pales into insignificance and is of relative unimportance, can nevertheless be dealt with?
1317 We are all concerned with attaining the same objective. We all want to see a better way of life. For some seven years of my life, first under the chieftanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, and then under the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, I was concerned solely with the question of how to enable people to achieve a better way of living, how to give them interests and activities that were of a more elevated and exalted character—if one may use a slightly pretentious phrase. That was my concern and preoccupation for seven years. The people who are concerned and preoccupied with pornography make one terrible mistake that emerges so saliently and clearly from this document: they look only at the tiny, seamy side of the human community. They do not go to see what a vast increase there is in that public that now goes to the clean, healthy and thoroughly entertaining theatre; the public that goes to the concerts and to the operas; the public who swarm into the art galleries—provided that the titles of the art galleries are such that they commend themselves to the noble Viscount and are intelligible to the public at large. These publics are increasing by thousands and thousands. May it not be that the increase in the more benevolent and valuable interests is attributable to the fact that we have removed trammels and chains from the activities of human beings in all directions? Would it he too high a price to pay to have a little extra pornography if it is wholly and totally outbalanced and outweighed by the increase in these more benevolent and worthy social activities?
I invite the noble Earl to consider that question very seriously: to consider whether it is not necessary to have a free society for people to expand in all directions; to a modest extent, perhaps, in a declension of human behaviour; to a greater extent in an improvement and an advancement of human behaviour. It seems to me that an examination of the moral behaviour, habits and practices of the community—what they read and look at—is incomplete and totally inadequate unless one looks at the whole picture. There is one lady I know who periodically appears on television, writes letters or otherwise engages herself in perfectly reputable and honourable criticisms of the forms of entertainment that now regale our society but who never seems to go 1318 and see a worthwhile entertainment; she never seems, at the time of some expletive being uttered on the B.B.C., to say, for example, that three splendid documentary programmes were being put out on television or that some excellent music was going over the air. It is only in contrast with what is worth while that one can assess what is unworthy and despicable and it is the major fault of this document, the Longford Report, that it is concerned, and almost pathologically concerned, with aspects of human behaviour which exist, which have always existed and which can never be removed.
I come briefly to the so-called legal code, because the proposed new definition is really—I hesitate to use words which might give offence to the noble Lord—an absurdity. We are told that hereafter pornography is to be something that outrages contemporary standards of decency and humanity. I have not quoted the exact words but that is the gist of the proposal. Consider first the word "outrageous", to which some reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Fletcher. It means that before one can have a prosecution one must establish that people are at such boiling point and rage over a piece of pornography—take the test which is applied to criminal libel—that there is bound to be a breach of the peace. That is almost impossible to prove. Human beings can be outraged in the true sense of the word by almost anything. The likelihood that they are going to be outraged by the publication of photographs showing young women in the nude to the point where one can procure a prosecution under this definition is remote to the point of being non-existent.
That is not, however, the major point. The most dangerous point—here again, it is a most terrible defect of this document—is that it never considered historically what the implications would have been on English literature and art if a definition of this kind had prevailed years ago. Not a syllable in the document is addressed to the question of what would have happened to Bernard Shaw, Thomas Hardy, Havelock Ellis and hundreds of others who would have been in jail for three years because they would have been said to have outraged contemporary notions of public decency or humanity.
Let us consider the use of the word "humanity" in the document. This must 1319 give a great deal of offence. This is dragging a word of immense social quality, virtue and kindliness into a context which has no place, no context and no possible meaning. Should W3 not have thought that a few weeks ago some of the newspapers in this country, by their cartoons and articles in relation to immigration and the black population, were outraging canons of humanity? Would we suggest that their proprietors—Heaven forbid; I speak as the chairman of their association—should be lugged off to gaol for three years? The existence of this definition is to be found in the most confused thought that it is possible to imagine. It is to be found in the utter and total hatred of pornography, making it impossible for the perpetrators of this report to reach any objective assessment of the words they were using.
Let us consider this definition. It is really saying that unless one conforms to the standards of the mass of mankind one is committing an offence. Hence, it is an attack on every kind of nonconformity. It is an attack on every kind of liberal thought and minority thought and, if I may say so, it goes from worse to worse the more one thinks about the definition because it does not even achieve what its draftsmen set out to achieve. It will not catch the material it is after. Consider a production like Oh! Calcutta! I do not know how many of your Lordships have seen this production; I confess that I have not seen it. I am sure, however, that it will be seriously deplored by those members of this Committee who subscribe to its ultimate conclusions. I am sure that whatever form of legislation was introduced, they would want it to net oh! Calcutta! and similar productions.
I remind your Lordships, on the other hand, that Oh! Calcutta! has been produced for upwards of two or three years in a London theatre which holds about 1,000 people for eight performances a week. This means that there are something like 50,000 people a year who go to see this production. If one adds the number of years and numbers of productions elsewhere, it is perfectly clear that the production does not outrage anyone's opinions. There have been no riots at the theatre. Immense numbers of people have 1320 been to see it with total satisfaction. Some say that it is a bit dull, others say that it is rather disappointing or that the sexual aspects do not come up to expectations. But that is not, as I understand it, the complaint that would be made about it by the noble Lord and his Committee. Be that as it may, I suggest that they have produced a definition of total futility and of poisonous dangerousness to free thought. They have contrived to achieve the near impossible. They will not catch what they are after but they will endanger a great many things which no human being is entitled to be after.
If I speak trenchantly and in a manner which unfortunately might give offence to the noble Lord and some of the people concerned, I can only say that this is a case where the issues are of such importance that one cannot mince one's words. It is right to say to the Government that there is no evidence of this vast volume of pornography—that there is no evidence which would justify any intrusion into the freedom of human behaviour and thought. Of course we should like to see pornography reduced and the profits reduced, and there is a very simple method by which to achieve this. Indeed, the noble Lord demonstrates it himself.
I confess that through the business to which I have referred I have been unable to give much study to pornography and I do not think I have a pornographic magazine or volume in my possession. With the further relaxation which I hope will come from abandoning certain activities, I hope that I shall be able to make a more detailed study of the matter. As things are at the moment, what the noble Lord says is that if one goes to Denmark one finds that the pornography is ten times cheaper than it is in England. It is clear that the way to remove these outrageous profits is to introduce the system in being in Denmark, where there is no restraint of any kind on its publication. If we are anxious to prevent people from becoming rich by this foul and odious means, the answer is to remove the restraints. Nothing increases profitability by profiteers and people dealing under the counter more effectively than rationing, and the noble Lord is anxious to introduce a system of rationing.
Some years ago I used to earn an honest penny by practising as what was known as a literary lawyer. Publishers 1321 employed me to advise them on whether a book could be published with safety from libel, safety from copyright and occasionally safety from obscenity. This latter role was one for which I was not particularly well equipped, but once one is established as a literary lawyer one is reluctant to turn away a fee. On one occasion a book was brought to me which had been published in the United States of America. It had been the rounds and virtually every publisher in London had rejected it because of the considered high risk of publication. I read the book over the weekend and on the Monday I telephoned the publishers and said: "I do not know what all the fuss is about. A more innocuous work I have never seen. I cannot see anything at all that needs to be removed."Elated and fortified by my opinion, which they were prudent enough to ask me to give in writing, they proceeded to publish the book. Indeed I believe that some 60,000 copies of the book were produced in hardback form, and the noble Earl, who is a publisher of distinction, will know that that is by no means normal in the publishing trade.
Some time later the senior partner in the publishing firm came to see me and said,"We were astonished by your opinion and you must be the most courageous lawyer in the world to have given us that advice. We have published the book; we have made a small fortune and we have not been prosecuted. "He added," How did you come to consider passages x, y and z on pages so-and-so", and when I came to examine those passages I realised that I had completely missed every one of the obscenities. In truth, I had not understood a single one of the obscenities. In my innocence they were too much for me. This story has a moral—that it is nearly impossible, if not impossible, to procure a definition of "obscenity."
On the question whether obscenity does harm to people, a very high-powered American commission looked into this matter. Incidentally, there is another feature of the noble Lord's report to which I took a slight objection. While he refers with great approval to the qualifications and standing of the people who produced the minority report in relation to America, there is not I think any reference to the qualifications and standing of the immensely impressive and 1322 distinguished people who constituted the vast majority. The fact that they contained the Attorney-General of California, the leading child guide expert in the country, and a number of people of similar quality, is nowhere referred to. We are, however, referred at one stage in one of the minority reports to a passage of such idiocy that it is difficult to comment on it although I will draw attention to it. What is perfectly clear is that this is a subject about which there will always be argument. It is not a subject agitating the public at large. It is not a subject that needs any immediate action. In previous debates in your Lordships' House I have been struck by the fact that a number of your Lordships in making speeches have had the candour to say that in your youth you have read pornography. I cannot remember which particular Members of your Lordships' House but quite a number have said that from time to time and have gone on to say that they have now abandoned the practice. If you want more incontrovertible proof that the reading of pornography can do nothing to a community which becomes the consuls and the proconsuls and the senators and the praetors in every part of the world that fact in itself is established.
I do not think that I need say any more than this: it is quite clear that what I have said will not be acceptable to a number of your Lordships, but I ask you to go out and ask a number of people whether they really think that the question of pornography is the most urgent and vital consideration of the modern day and whether they really think that providing this pitiful stuff which a number of people need on account of their own sexual and mental inadequacy is something that ought to occupy the attention of your Lordships' time for another second and certainly for another debate.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ LORD COLERAINE
My Lords, like some other of your Lordships and like my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford and the noble Lord, Lord Shackle-ton, but unlike the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, I have not intervened in this debate with very great pleasure. I suppose that I have the characteristic of an out-dated generation in that I do not particularly like the parade in public of 1323 matters which I think are better kept private. I intervene for only two reasons: one reason is my respect for the noble Earl and my admiration for the way in which he has stood up to abuse and ridicule and has produced what I consider, and what I believe a number of your Lordships will consider (in spite of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, to whose entertaining speech we have listened with so much pleasure), to be a very great contribution to a very important subject. It is rather important, whatever defects his report may have, that he has been able to focus the attention of Parliament on this very important problem. Of course it is not the most important problem with which we are faced. If I were asked what that was I should probably say that it was inflation; but that does not mean that every debate must be about inflation, nor does it mean that we must never discuss other subjects. The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, asks, what reason is there to suppose that there has been any increase in pornography and interest in pornography? He can detect none. But in the book he was telling us about he could not detect any obscenity, and he was told that there was a good deal of it. I think that very possibly the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, is too innocent for this world. The noble Lord seemed to me to advance some very extraordinary propositions. I may be misrepresenting him, but as I understood him, he said that unless you provided pornography there people would not go to Covent Garden.
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, I had no intention of interrupting any further speaker but I cannot let go on record an historical assertion of that kind attributed to me. I said no such thing. What I said was that you had to examine the whole picture and you had to see whether the possibility that there was an increase in pornography due to the increase in human liberty was not more than compensated for by the more desirable aspects of entertainment now prevalent.
§ LORD COLERAINE
Yes, my Lords: but the noble Lord seemed to make some connection between the two, and I cannot myself see that there is any connection at all. He also said that after all it really did not much matter because it 1324 was a metropolitan problem and the problem of large cities. They did not have much pornography, he understood, in Harrogate. That is probably very true, but the plain fact of the matter is that the great bulk of our people live in London and in other large cities, and it is a small minority which lives in Harrogate; so that if pornography is a problem in the metropolitan area, then I submit that it is a national problem.
I would call in evidence against the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, someone whom he would probably be surprised that I should call into the witness box, namely, Mr. Norman Mailer. Mr. Norman Mailer, as your Lordships know, is a brilliant American writer, author of The Naked and the Dead, The American Dream and other works, but he has never been regarded as the male equivalent of Mrs. Whitehouse. I was very much interested to read a year or two ago something that he said:A war has been won. Writers like myself can now in America write about any subject; if it is sexual and explicit, no matter, the American writer has his freedom … We can all congratulate ourselves.I believe that would be the view of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, also. And yet, Mr. Mailer goes on to say:I am troubled, for back of the ogres of censorship and the comedies of community hypocrisy, there still rests the last defence of the censor, that sophisticated argument which might urge that sex is a mystery, and men explore it and define it and examine it and eventually disembowel it of privacy at their peril.I believe that Mr. Norman Mailer is right.
I am not an anthropologist but I do think that it is probably the case that if you look at any society or culture, however primitive, however civilised—whether you look at the culture of the South Sea Islands, or Hinduism or the eleusinian rites of classical Greece or whether you look at the world to-day, or at any rate at the mystery of Western Europe—sex, however much people may have differed about the various ways of practising it, has always been regarded as something sacred. What seems to me to be so appalling to-day, and what makes me convinced that there is an increase in pornography, that there is an increasing pollution of the moral atmosphere, is that now sex is regarded as a commodity (a trivial commodity even if an expensive one) and that is a terrible thing.
1325 We should remember also that whatever our faith, we in Western Europe are the inheritors of a Christian culture. I do not mean that we are all Christians by faith, and still less that we are all Christians by practice; but we have inherited a Christian culture deriving from Palestine, Greece and Rome, and I cannot help feeling that history shows that whenever any society turns its back on its traditional culture, as we are doing today, it is in a state of decadence. One of the phenomena of history is the experience of the Jewish race. With one or two temporary back-slidings, they have stood through the centuries and through the millennia for their faith, for their inheritance, and they have survived tribulations and privations as I think few others could have done.
Another thing that I think we have got to realise about obscenity, pornography, is that it is not just an accidental moral pollution of the air, like burning coal fires in one's grate; to some extent it is a deliberate attempt to destroy the existing basis of society. As we know, in the Oz trial the editor of Oz made no bones about this. He said quite explicitly that his purpose was to destroy the idea of family life, and if you did that you could overturn the whole of Western society. There is really nothing new in that. Always throughout European history there have been people who have been trying to find a millennium, to overturn society and start a new society of love and brotherly kindness: people like Eon of Brittany, the pseudo Baldwin, John Ball and so on. And these periods of milleniastic endeavour have nearly always been in periods of shock, after great wars, great devastations, great plagues, I think that to some extent we are passing through such a period to-day.
Another characteristic of these Messianic movements is that they are never inspired by the working class, never inspired by what we think of as Christian Socialism; they are always inspired by people on the fringes of the intellectual world and people who are rejected for some reason or another by the middle class to which they rightly belong.
May I say one thing more. I was very much impressed by something that was said earlier in the debate by the noble Lord, Lord Soper, when he said that we 1326 were inclined to misunderstand the reality of freedom. I wonder how many of your Lordships would agree with me in what Montesquieu says:Liberty does not consist in doing what one pleases.Liberty only consists in doing what one ought".I think there is a very profound truth there. I do not see how you can maintain a free society without restraint, and what I suppose chiefly distinguishes man from the lower forms of animal life (and I believe that they are lower) is.just this capacity for self-restraint. The lives of animals are regulated by nature. They mate in due season and for the purposes of reproducing their species. They kill for food. We have the freedom to mate for fun and to kill for fun. But I cannot help thinking that if we abuse that freedom we will go the way of other civilisations which have passed away before us. And whatever the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, may have said to us, however brilliantly he may have spoken, I certainly believe that at the present time we are living in an increasingly polluted atmosphere, and that unless we pull ourselves together we may find that we have gone so far down the slope that we cannot recover ourselves again.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ LORD ARDWICK
My Lords, may I say that I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Longford for deferring his speech. It is not often when one is number 14 in the batting order, with a long list of speakers such as we have to-day, that one has a House of such size, and I am sure it is because we have not yet heard Lord Longford and that we are all agog "waiting for Godot". I, too, am speaking with some reluctance to-day. The more we talk about pornography I fear the greater the interest we arouse in it; I am quite sure that until the noble Earl began his inquiry a great many people in this country had never heard of it, and I think we are in some danger of making "pornography" into a clean word.
Lord Longford's Committee have produced the kind of report that I expected from them. It is earnest, it is sincere, it is wide-ranging, indeed far too wideranging, but of course it is nothing like a scientific sociological inquiry. It adds, I think, a little to our knowledge, and 1327 perhaps something to our perceptions. But it fails to find a convincing answer, because there does not seem to have been any real agreement on, any real concept of, the problem. Some members of the Committee would really, I suspect from reading the report, like us to renounce not merely the Devil but also the world and the flesh. They do not approve of the sexual revolution, which has enabled people to say openly that sexual relations can be happy and enjoyable in themselves, and that the private sexual life of adults is their own moral concern, not that of the Church or of society, and certainly not that of Governments.
There is, of course, a dark side to the sexual revolution. There is a widespread trade in pornography, pornography which is easy to recognise but very difficult to define in legal terms. And its danger is, I think, not exactly a social one but the effect it may have on sexual attitudes and sexual values. Its corruption is of the mind and the spirit and of the relationship between the sexes. But may I say that those of us who grew up in a harsh, oppressive, puritan environment could suffer a worse corruption of mind and spirit and find our relationships with the opposite sex very seriously impaired. I am sure indeed that the old repressive system did far more damage to the spirit, and indeed to sheer mental balance, than pornography does to-day, for the repression in our youth was universal, while pornography, growth industry though it may be, still touches only a small part of our society.
There is an attempt at page 412 of the report to define pornography in a fashion which will appeal to liberal and sensitive minds. Indeed, I find much to admire in it. It defines pornography as that which exploits and dehumanises sex so that human beings are treated as things and women in particular as sex objects. But I wonder whether the Committee really accept that. Suppose you have a book, or a film, which deals with real and passionate love of man for woman and woman for man, and spares us no detail of their cherished intimacies. There is no dehumanisation, no treatment of a woman as a sex object. Well, I think that one can make aesthetic objection to this kind of work, as the Amises do in 1328 their excellent essay in the report, but it falls outside the attempted definition of pornography. I should imagine that the kind of work that I have tried to visualise is that which many people who sympathise with the findings of this report would like to prohibit. But of course it would also be possible to produce a book, or a film, which exploited and dehumanised sex and yet which spared us the ultimate intimacies, the ultimate embraces. It could be morally horrifying, but would it be pornography? The Taming of the Shrew almost comes into that category, and so does that cold classic Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
In the end the Committee come to the law, and they would prohibit any publication or performance whose effect, taken as a whole, is to outrage contemporary standards of decency accepted by the public at large. But what is acceptable to the public at large? I do not know. It is one of the problems that we have all the time in Fleet Street. It may surprise you, in view of what Fleet Street publishes to-day, that we are erring, we think, on the side of safety in order not to shock our readers. But I do not know what is acceptable to the public at large. I do not think that a discussion with 11 other people in a jury room will enable any of us to know. There is, I suspect, no public opinion, no consensus, in society the moment you get outside the field of very obvious hard commercial pornography. I have doubts whether a jury of this kind would be so repressive as the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, feared. I think the contrary, that it would be very easy to disgust a jury of people who were largely under the age of 50, but that it would be very hard to outrage them to-day. The sense of outrage is not very strong among the younger generation, taking the younger generation right up to middle age.
I believe that there will be almost universal agreement that if a law can be framed to prohibit a public display of indecent books, pictures, and objects, both outside and inside shops it should be framed and rigorously upheld. It is the Wolfenden solution of making prostitution available only for those who seek it out. The object is to avoid creating demand by the provision of supply. I am sure that this would greatly diminish 1329 the trade. When you are selling respectable magazines your biggest sales effort is to get them displayed on the news stands and in the shops. If you cannot get them displayed—and there is often a reluctance to display serious minority publications—then all may be lost. I am sure that this would apply to the trade of pornography too.
We can never eradicate pornography. I disagree with the noble Lord who spoke last; I do not think that it is a new phenomenon. Sex may always have been a sacred mystery, but I think that it has also always been a profane revelation throughout history. We have always had the brothels side by side with the temples. We can never eradicate pornography, but I think that we can contain it and keep it out of the hands of children. What we cannot do is to turn the clock back to the Victorian age; to put art in a puritan straitjacket; to tell people how they must conduct their private lives if they do not wish to suffer social penalties; to return to reticence in the serious discussion of sexual matters, including reticence in the classroom. Yet this, I suspect, is the secret longing of many people. But it has nothing to do with pornography, or depravity, or corruption; it is an attempt to reincarnate Dr. Bowdler and Mrs. Grundy, and it cannot be done.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, as one of the strong supporters of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in the debate in April last year (though I found the subject distasteful then as I do to-day), I welcome this report. With all its imperfections, including its length, it far exceeds my expectations of what the result of the inquiry would be. Further, I feel that it is remarkable that so voluminous a report was procured from so many sources with such remarkable speed. If it is lengthy, at least it shows that the spadework has been thorough—and in using that word I quote from the speech of the noble Earl last year. I do not think that he would claim the report as being more than spadework, but that spadework has been thorough, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, said. I feel that we owe a debt to the right reverend Prelate for introducing this debate in the face of considerable resistance, and I accordingly welcome it as 1330 showing, by the number of speakers, that those who tried to pour cold water on the project were, and are, quite out of touch.
To be fair, one of the reasons why I welcome the debate is that the sooner the whole beastly controversy is out of the way the better; and in that respect I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick. We can make too much of this. At the same time, circumstances are on the right reverend Prelate's side. We not only have this ugly and important debate, but the Press to-day disclose similar rumblings in another place, and yesterday we read with satisfaction the judgment of the Court of Appeal in the Blackburn case. I think that we can disregard the sniping which has come from various directions—generally from the expected permissive quarters. I will not elaborate on what I mean unless it be to say that the majority of sensible people, God-fearing and otherwise, seem to accept that something must be done about the law. Regardless of what the noble Lord, Lord Gcodman, says, I prefer to listen to the noble Lord. Lord Soper, and the right reverend Prelate himself, and many others, and to my own wide circle of friends, who say that pornography is increasing—or it was increasing until recently, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, pointed out—at an alarming pace.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, said that pornography is not the most important issue to-day, and in that I agree with him. In a lengthy and rambling speech—almost confused, I thought—but redeemed throughout by his shafts of humour, he disclosed of course that his views were as valuable on this subject as his views on the book which he recommended might be published, and then found he had left out a whole lot of pages. I think that I could go on about Lord Goodman's speech, but I can safely leave that in the hands of the noble Earl who is to follow me.
§ LORD BIRKETT
My Lords, in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, would it not perhaps be fair to say that that was not what, the noble Lord said. He did not leave the pages out; he read them through most carefully without understanding them.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, perhaps he read the whole of the Longford Report 1331 and did not understand some of the pages. I beg the noble Lord's pardon in his absence. But I think the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, put his finger on the problem when he said that pornography has been increasing at an alarming pace, and is still increasing. I am one of those who make no bones about believing, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine does, that it is not only the dirty money which is to be made out of hard pornography which actuates the trade, but the resources of world revolution—the outriders of anti-Christ. These resources are being poured into this channel like the sophisticated arms in Ireland to-day. I made this point obliquely when I spoke in 1971. It is the weak for whom we plead. Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, pornography, soft or hard, has very little effect on the mature, but we must realise—and I think this is brought out in page after page of the report—that it is the weak and the immature who deserve our protection.
Of course the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has reason to hold the views which he holds, as have others, about the effects of pornography on the mature, but that is not the point. We can leave the mature to look after themselves. As one of my correspondents emphasised, the social sequence of pornography's effect on the weak is simple—vice, drugs, violence and crime follow in that order. As I see it, the problem is not so complex as the intellectuals and academics—what one of my friends calls the "silly-clevers"—would make us believe. As Peregrine Worsthorne said, as reported in the book:The pornographers are the new blasphemers, and it should be the rationalists and humanists driving them out of the Temple, far more than the Christian moralists, since it is now their religion which is being put at risk.I have only three more brief points to make. First, I should like to thank Mr. Kerrigan and Mr. Keith Steven, the Secretary of the Church of Scotland Committee on Moral Welfare, who prepared Chapter 23 on the position in Scotland. They pinpoint the important difference between the laws of Scotland and England. Perhaps they are a little complacent about the impact of pornography in the North, less widespread though it may be than in the more densely populated urban areas in the South. One of the few points on which I agreed with the 1332 noble Lord, Lord Goodman, is that this is very largely a problem of urban and city areas where there are dense populations. Of course, in Scotland, Glasgow is the only area to which this description applies. Another point about the chapter on Scotland which I find satisfying is that the authors suggest the same wording of a new definition for their draft Bill as that in the draft English Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, has torn that definition to ribbons, but I do not think that that matters. This is something to bite on. This is what the noble Earl last year called "spade work" and it is something to bite on. It is important that both in Scotland in regard to the law there, and in England and Wales in regard to the law here, there is a consensus of opinion on this definition. I cannot forbear to mention the "Scottish Petition for Public Decency", which is reported on page 390 and which was signed this very year by about a quarter of a million folk of all denominations. It is another emphatic pointer to the wishes of the general public that something must be done about the legal position and about the enforcement of the law as it stands, and that right early.
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland had some hard things to say about the change in the B.B.C.'s approach in the middle 'sixties, and there is much in what they said. Incidentally. I often feel that it is no use contending that "you can always switch off if you like". Of course you can, but it is rubbish to say that, as the mother of a working class family said to another of my correspondents. She was referring, in particular, to violence, although they were discussing pornography. She said:I often wish the children were not gazing at the television, but if I switch it off what happens? They go out into the street far below, which is worse.The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that the B.B.C. are well governed by the Board of Governors. I sometimes doubt that, because one of my acquaintances, who is closely concerned with the B.B.C. though not a member of the staff, told me when I was complaining about the "British Empire" series earlier in the year, "The fact is that the Governors are not governing". That surprised me, but it was late at night.
The second point which I wish to make arises from my personal dismay at the 1333 obvious influence, through the Press and through broadcasting, of such people as Dr. Martin Cole, Mr. Kenneth Tynan and so on. I suppose it is a free country but, all the same, I wonder—and I am not alone in so doing—how long the tenure of the present literary consultant of the National Theatre has to run, and indeed how the position ever came to be so filled, especially when I am told that the position has an influence over the line to be taken by theatrical critics generally. Lastly, I should like to emphasise, from my experience as boy, school prefect, father and grandfather, what the report contends. That experience is that the vast majority of young people of every creed and colour, clothed and unclothed, are naturally modest and regard provocative nakedness and exposure as interference with the proper privacy of sex matters. I have personal knowledge of the distressing and dismaying effect of soft "porn" on a naturally reserved and innocent young girl of thirteen.
I draw particular attention to the quotation on page 230 from Dr. Louise Eickhoff's letter in The Lancet, which reads:… the safety devices which are built in to protect the individual and Society—i.e., a desire for privacy, secrecy, intimacy, and reservation for the love-bond situation".I emphasise those words as they are very important. They are the words of a well-known consultant child psychiatrist. How often do we sing:Teach us to rule ourselves always Teach us Delight in simple things, And Mirth that has no bitter springs".And Kipling was no prude. I beg the intellectuals and academics not to lead us, with their theories and disputations, into a sort of mental and moral Spaghetti Junction with numerous tortuous ways, both in and out, and with many weary miles to go for any who take the wrong turning before, if ever, the right road is regained. The problem, as I see it, is a straightforward crossroads, and the sooner a revised law repaints the signpost the better for us all.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I hope I have not disconcerted anybody by speaking later than indicated by the list of speakers, which was intended to assist my noble friend Lord Fletcher, who had to leave. It is a privilege to 1334 follow the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, who speaks so effectively on behalf of moral values. I am particularly glad that he and the Church of Scotland generally have been so kind to our report, both in supplying us with invaluable members of our Committee and in backing up the report since it has appeared. I aim naturally most grateful to the right reverend Prelate for initiating this debate, and for all he has done to help us in so many different ways; and I am grateful, too, for the kind things said about me by him and by others. A good manly years ago Ernest Bevin defined "inflation" as making a successful speech at a public dinner and "deflation" as going home and telling your wife about it. So far as I am concerned, "inflation" has been listening to one or two of the speakers and "deflation" has been listening to one or two of the others. So on the whole, and not only to-day, I have been able to strike a kind of balance between those two extremes. But if it is not impertinent of me, and though it is not perhaps quite my position to do so, may I thank all the speakers.
My Lords, I have rather a lot to say, and therefore perhaps noble Lords will forgive me if I do not deal in detail with a number of the speeches, as I would do, of course, if I was winding up. But the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, has kindly stayed longer than usual. To find him here at eight minutes to seven argues that this is a very important subject indeed and not a trivial one, as some Members were inclined to argue earlier. I also take it as a mark of personal friendship.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
Of course, my Lords, the noble Lord is so cunning. Now he has completely disarmed me, and I am going to find it difficult to say what I would really say if I had a little more courage. At any rate, I thought that the only trouble with his speech, obviously, was that he was waiting to prepare his speech while I delivered what he thought was to be an oration of perhaps an hour, and that in the result he had no time to prepare, so he came down to the House in a very muddled condition—a delightfully muddled condition; but "muddled", I 1335 think, is the only fair word one can apply to it. But without trying to sort out all his muddles for him, let me comment on two points, one of them personal. As far as humanly possible I am going to leave out the personal references to myself, but he said that I was an excellent fellow who would be a good prep school master in a lean year, or words to that effect, but that I was not qualified as a social investigator. My Lords, I do not know who in this House is more qualified than I am. I think the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, might be said to be more qualified, in view of his great Report, and I think the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, might he said to be. But with one or two exceptions I have had much more experience of social investigation than 99 noble Lords out of a 100. I was for three years with Lord Beveridge when many noble Lords were doing more dangerous things, though not necessarily things more intellectually educative; I conducted an inquiry myself, under the auspices of the Nuffield Foundation, into the causes of crime; and I have carried out other inquiries. So if the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, who has had no experience whatever, so far as I know, of social investigation, who is an ignoramus in that field—I repeat, a total ignoramus in the field of social investigation—comes down and says that I would have done a wonderful job if only I had been qualified, I can only say that he knows as much about social investigation as I know about the law. If I was in trouble (and the world is very full of it) I would go to him for help. I have before now, and I would go again for help on any legal or indeed human matter. But when it comes to social investigation, to use a famous expression,"Chuck it, Smith!" At any rate, having dealt with that in, I hope, an amicable way, may I come on to other points?
The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, argued that pornography was probably not noticeably increasing. Last year in this House I submitted the proposition that pornography had increased, was increasing and ought to be diminished. If I am asked, "Has it increased since then?", I think it would be rather difficult to give a very confident answer because while a lot of very unpleasant productions have emerged or developed 1336 in the 18 months, there has been, on the other hand, some counter-movement associated with my friend Mrs. Whitehouse, who was obliquely referred to (not very unkindly, but obliquely referred to) by the noble Lord, and through the Festival of Light and others. At any rate, there has been some counter-movement, and it would be rather hard to say whether pornography is worse as of now than it was when we debated these matters in the spring of last year. At any rate, let us take the words of Mr. Carr, the Home Secretary, who declared at the Conservative Conference:There is a great and growing public concern about pornography".That is what the Home Secretary said, and I do not think that we can assume that the public are so deluded as to imagine that there is an increase in pornography when that is not really so. So I think that if we take the words of Mr. Carr we shall probably agree that there has been this growing concern and probably some increase, although there has been some counter-movement.
My Lords, as various speakers have mentioned, of course there has been a very important development in the last few days. I am a little inhibited, perhaps, but I am talking of the judgment of Lord Denning and his colleagues in relation to an application for an order of mandamus by Mr. Blackburn against the police. I am a little inhibited because I understand that Mr. Blackburn is appealing, and therefore I must be careful not to intrude on what is sub judice. But from that case it emerges beyond question that pornography, not only soft pornography but hard pornography—pornography which is by any possible test, actual or theoretical, illegal—is being sold freely in London. That is the actual position, and I think that has to be accepted as a fact. The law is being freely broken. Whether we should like to tighten the law or not, the present law is being freely broken; and the whole question whether one can improve the administration of the law without altering the law is one which comes rather close to the issue which is sub judice. But I think we can pay very great attention, to say the least, to the judgment of Lord Denning and his colleagues, which must surely strongly support the view that has been argued in 1337 our report, that the existing law is ineffective and inadequate, and should be changed. I am not trying to argue that the judges said that the particular changes recommended in our report were the right ones. They just said that the present law ought to be changed, and I think we are bound to start from there.
Now the questions—obviously the eternal questions, as one might say; or they seemed to become eternal to me as we went on with this inquiry—are, broadly speaking, three: What is pornography? Does it do any harm? And what, if anything, do we propose to do about it? I shall touch very briefly on the definition. I will remind your Lordships—the right reverend Prelate reminded us of it earlier, but I will mention it again—that in our report we defined pornography asThat which exploits and dehumanises sex so that human beings are treated as things and women in particular as sex objects".We have been attacked on various grounds, very naturally. As Mr. Truman, I think, once said, "If you find it too hot you can always come out of the kitchen"; so one is certainly not complaining of any criticisms. We have been attacked on various grounds, but not so far as I know in regard to the definition. The point to notice, surely, is that pornography is closely connected with perversion and, through perversion, with cruelty. Anybody who chooses to walk down the streets of Soho and can bear to look into the windows will see the close connection between pornography in the purely sexual sense and cruelty. So when we are talking of sexual liberation, or anything of that kind, do not let us forget that many people who would favour sexual liberation dislike cruelty quite as much as I do, and I dare say more; and I hope that that point will not be overlooked.
However, let us come to the vital question: Does pornography do any harm? In the first place it causes offence, and I say that causing widespread offence is harmful. If you are causing embarrassment, pain or distress, that is harmful. It is impossible for me to feel that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, agreed with me very much in these matters, but at any rate on that particular point I think that he (and it may even be the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, who seemed to be 1338 still more extreme in that direction; but certainly I think the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton) would agree that where pornography causes public offence it should be curbed. I think I am interpreting the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, correctly. So there does seem to be a very widespread agreement here, and in the country, for some steps to curb what is called display". No doubt when we come to that, when, as I hope, the Bill appears, we shall have all sorts of problems initially or at the Committee stage. But there seems to be a great consensus in regard to "display". I welcome that heartily.
Then we come to the question of whether it does any harm, in the sense of causing any moral deterioration in those who come under its influence. One can supply individual instances. We supplied a few in the report which I need not repeat now; but I will quote as an example one which came to me a day or two ago—not because, taken by itself, one example or 50 examples or 100 examples prove that on balance it does harm—merely to focus our thoughts. I am taking it from a newspaper cutting that the lady concerned, the victim, sent me:After a pub crawl a young motorway labourer went home to study his collection of pornographic photographs. As he pored over them he thought of the 31-year-old divorcee who lived nearby. He had never spoken to her. The 22-year-old man was so stirred that he grabbed a wrench and smashed his way into the woman's house and savagely attacked her in the bedroom. Screaming, ' I want you ', ho stabbed her in the stomach and slashed her across the throat with a knife.That is one example. If people say that there was never evidence, then they are flying in the face of a large accumulation of evidence. When people say that there is no evidence let them start by observing that one can collect quite a lot of pieces of individual evidence.
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, I shall be interested to know what the noble Earl thinks that that is evidence of. Is he saying that that assault would not have been committed if the accused had not had a collection of pornographic photographs? Has anyone seen the collection? Do we know where they derive from? Were they published; were they photographs taken privately or were they 1339 bought? This is typical of the sort of evidence that appears in this report.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, that sounds clever, but it is not quite clever enough. I am going to read out—I was not going to do so, but in the circumstances I must—what the judge who sentenced him to six years said. He said:Whoever supplied you with pornographic literature can be sure that they have a lot of responsibility for what you did.I am prepared to stand on the view taken by the judge who sentenced him. I think that that was a satisfactory answer to that single point. If the noble Lord is not going to be satisfied with the answer to that limited point, then he is going to be very hard to please this evening.
My Lords, I go on to the wider question of what would be the effect of the prevalence of pornography. This is obviously immeasurable. Supposing, for argument's sake, you find it increasing 50 per cent. in five years, no one can say that that increase would be related to a certain increase in crime or to a certain expansion of promiscuity. You pass beyond any sort of field of measurement. But we can assume that a major increase in pornography such as, I submit with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, has occurred, is bound to have an effect of some kind. If we say that it is not likely to have an effect of any kind then we are flying in the face of all common sense, of all experience, of all educational theory, of all advertising technique and in the face of—a good point made earlier by a noble Lord whose name escapes me—the principle to which we give effect in dealing with the stirring up of racial hatred. We assume that that does have an effect; and we must assume that a great expansion of pornography has a major effect; although I agree that one cannot measure it.
We are told that there is no evidence. Here, with the permission of the House, I will go into the question at some little length. When people talk about no evidence they mean, I suppose, no statistical evidence, no evidence of the kind examined in the appendix of our report. It was prepared by Mr. Yaffé. I am afraid that I have the feeling, without being rude to the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, that 1340 he has not read Mr. Yaffés appendix. He spoke as if we had paid no attention to the evidence. There is a careful examination of the evidence in our appendix.
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt, but the noble Earl keeps referring to what I have done or what I have not done. I read the appendix which was a careful and reasoned statement of why he was not prepared to repudiate the majority report of the American Commission.
THE EARL OF LONG FORD
My Lords, I am afraid that that was not Mr. Yaffe's conclusion. Here I pick up a point from what I think the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said. Perhaps he will correct me if I am wrong. Lord Shackleton seemed to be saying that there is overwhelming agreement among experts—I do not know who they were but I should be glad to meet them—that pornography does not have any adverse effect on adults. Whatever else the alleged experts say, they would not be able to argue that. They might be able to say that there is no evidence that it has any effect; but they certainly cannot argue that there is any clear proof that it does not have an effect. It remains, so far as the experts are concerned, an open question. That is the real position, as anybody who looks at Mr. Yaffés appendix will know.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, without looking a: what appears in Hansard, I cannot remember the exact phrase. The noble Earl may be right: but I was at pains to put forward the evidence of those who said that the evidence was in the way I indicated and this did not seem at least to be inconsistent with Mr. Yaffé's conclusion which was that in the present state of knowledge it is not possible to draw any useful conclusion which might be applied to this problem. Perhaps he was floating in the middle. All that I thought I concluded was that it was yet to be shown that pornography caused the harm it was suggested that it caused.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, if I misinterpreted the noble Lord I apologise, but I thought it so important to make the claim that it remains an open question so far as the experts' evidence is concerned, that I ventured to take him up on it. 1341 Now let us consider what is meant in a discussion of this kind when we say that there is no evidence. We presumably mean that there is no relevant scientific evidence and we draw the conclusion from that—people who differ from me on this will draw this conclusion—that when there is no scientific evidence one assumes that there is no evidence; that the fact does not exist. The truth is that it is not usually possible (and that is the point of my question to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont) to discover scientific evidence in matters of this kind. Let us take any of the major social inquiries. Ordinarily speaking, you cannot produce scientific evidence for the more important conclusions or assumptions. Take the Beveridge Report on social insurance and allied services. Beveridge was asked to look into social insurance and allied services and he decided—not in the light of evidence, but he just decided because it was his social objective—that he wanted to abolish want. He made the assumption also that one ought to have full employment, a national Health Service and an adequate system of family allowances. The last three were what he called his assumptions.
Take the Wolfenden Report. That Committee arrived at a basic principle, but without evidence, that one should not interfere with people by law unless they seem to be doing harm to somebody else. That is the famous Wolfenden principle. It was not arrived at as a result of scientific evidence. It was just the conclusion of the committee. Take Lord Robbin's Report. I would place his Report on Higher Education along with the Report of my old master, Sir William Beveridge. I would give it as great acclaim. But he and his colleagues reached the conclusion (I do not know whether they reached it at the beginning or at the end; but it was unproved and unprovable) that everyone who qualified to receive a university education should, in fact, receive one. I have the exact wording here if the noble Lord would like me to read it.
§ LORD ROBBINS
My Lords, with respect and true gratitude to my old and dear friend the noble Earl, I must differ from him in this connection. The conclusion to which he refers was reached by the members of that committee only after 1342 the most exhaustive statistical investigation of the so-called"pool of ability" theory. And Professor Moseley's work on that—I had very little to do with it except for asking Professor Moseley to make that inquiry—seems to me to be a model of the way in which a preliminary sociological investigation of a great problem should take place before conclusions are reached. While I am on my feet, may I just allude to the Beveridge Report. The noble Earl is quite right in saying that up to the time he came to write his Report in the middle 'forties, Beveridge knew exactly what he wanted. But behind the Beveridge Report lies 15 years of sociological investigation, from Charles Booth onwards.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
Well, my Lords, I do not in fact agree with the noble Lord's interpretation. However, the noble Lord will know his own Report better than I, but I know Lord Beveridge's Report and had a great deal to do with it; and I still say that he formed his social objectives when he was not a young man but when he was about the same age as I am now. When you reach that sort of age undoubtedly you have formed your own social objectives. I will not go on with the argument about the Report of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, but I still say to the noble Lord that the assumption or conclusion that everybody who would benefit from a university education should have it is an unprovable conclusion. You simply cannot prove it from facts or figures. The noble Lord will see—
§ LORD ROBBINS
My Lords, I do not want to deny that there is a value judgment in that final conclusion.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
Exactly, my Lords: a value judgment. So perhaps then we may agree on that. When it comes to dealing with pornography a major value judgment is involved. The question is, of course, what do we then do about it? A value judgment, and one which is made by almost everybody, is that pornography does some harm. Last year the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, actually said that obviously pornography should be diminished if we can find means of diminishing it, and that, by definition, could not be anything but a good thing. He said something rather close to that tonight, and that is why I said I thought 1343 he was confused. He hovered between saying that it was something we wanted diminished and something which did not do any harm and might even be beneficial. But if one thinks that pornography ought to be diminished, it is, presumably, because one thinks it is a bad thing and that is the general assumption of almost everyone here. The real question—I am not one who thinks that it is an easy question; I think it is a difficult question—is: how do you draw a line which does not interfere with essential liberties? That is the crucial question, and perhaps I shall not confuse the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, or anybody else when I say that I quite agree that they are very much concerned that that line should riot be drawn so tightly that we interfere with the creative impulses of the country.
My Lords, I must say a word about censorship. Last year I said in this House that most of us dislike censorship and most of us dislike pornography, and the question is, how can you deal with pornography without expanding the area of censorship? As the right reverend Prelate said at the beginning of the debate, we have not expanded the area of censorship; and I repeat that by "censorship" one must mean the appointment of a censor, someone who can stop a publication from coming out. We have not done that. We have suggested a reconstruction of the film censorship, but we have not expanded the area of censorship. So far as that goes, we, in our plan, have complied with the requirements that I set out last time.
Before I conclude I must say a word about the deep-rooted opposition to any proposals of this kind. Some of it comes from gifted people—the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, for example, and the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell; and no doubt we shall hear it from the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, when she speaks. It is particularly identified with the arts, with communication, and there is no doubt that many such people feel that any attempt to strengthen the law against obscenity represents a movement towards repression. I am not going to argue that now. I have been connected with books as much as most noble Lords in this House, one way and another, directly or indirectly, and I fully understand that some people have these subconscious feel- 1344 ings. As soon as the idea is mooted that we should strengthen the law in the way suggested they feel that they are on the other side. I can only hope that they will gradually realise that there is no need to be so alarmed.
My Lords, I must say a word about a rather deeper and, in a way, a more rational and, to me, rather more objectionable point of view. Many of the artists or writers I have in mind would come under this next heading; and, of course, many would not. There are a lot of people to-day, talented people, in their own way idealistic people—many of them are at any rate—whose philosophy I can only call one of sexual liberation. In the extreme case these people are utterly opposed to the family. We saw that last year in connection with the Oz case. And some evidence given to us was explicitly aimed at the destruction of the family. That is what I would call the extreme form of sexual liberation. Many others believe in what used to be called "free love". That is not quite such a fashionable term as it was, but it seems to me to cover their activities fairly well. At any rate, overtly or covertly, they favour sexual promiscuity. If you favour sexual promiscuity you are not likely to welcome a report such as the Longford Report. You are bound to feel that it is going to interfere ultimately with the kind of thing of which you approve.
The people I am talking of are a strong force; nobody can deny that they are a strong force. I am not saying that there is anything wicked about it; I am just saying that theirs is a point of view utterly opposed to the point of view of Christians and of Humanists who believe in faithfulness in marriage and chastity outside it. In our report we have a very strong Christian inspiration, if you like, but we also have a powerful contribution from Humanists who speak up strongly for the family. So it boils down to this: that while one can conduct all these scientific inquiries and pseudoscientific inquiries—and they can go on for years—the fact is that those who favour sexual promiscuity, or do not see any reason why one should be alarmed about the growth of it, will dislike my report. It is as simple as that. But there is a vast number of people in this country who are in the middle, whether 1345 or not they happen to call themselves Christians. Certainly most of them will not be Roman Catholics. But the vast majority of people still—
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
May I just finish my sentence? There are a vast majority of people in this country who still aspire to faithfulness in marriage and chastity outside it.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for giving way. Can he tell me what sexual promiscuity has to do with the growth of pornography? Or rather, what has pornography to do with sexual promiscuity which, over the ages, has been absolutely free for men? They have always had it. Now, with "women's lib", women are also coming up to it. Personally, I am not particularly in favour of promiscuity—that is part of my prudishness. However, I appreciate that other people can be allowed to do as they like about promiscuity.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, the noble Baroness says "other people." I do not know whether she means children or not—
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
The noble Baroness is making those expressive gestures when I mention children—
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I am afraid that Dr. Martin Cole actually recommended it for children, in an article in the Guardian written last year. So I am afraid that one cannot separate the two topics in that way. One noble Lord, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, said that you cannot separate what has influence on adults with what has influence on children. At any rate, the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, does not see any connection between pornography and promiscuity. She said earlier that she had never seen hard pornography. I cannot exactly say that I hope she sees a lot of it, but the fact is that if she knows nothing about hard pornography I must explain 1346 to her that it encourages perversion in every possible way, and that leads to sexual promiscuity. Therefore, if one is actually against sexual promiscuity, one will be on the other side to people who are in favour of it. Many people are interested in pornography and many are not, but the fact is that if the vast majority of people feel that marriage in this country is threatened, then they will undoubtedly repudiate pornography.
What the future holds one cannot say. I should like to see much more research into the reasons why these people become addicts of pornography, and to help them in some way. For the moment the task is clear. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, has explained that the present law is quite unsatisfactory, and I do not doubt that most fair-minded people would agree with him. Whether it is done in exactly the same way as we recommend in our report, or in some other fashion, I am sure that there will soon be general agreement that something drastic must be done without delay.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, before the noble sits down, may I ask him what promiscuity has to do with perversion?
§ 7.21 p.m.
My Lords, I do not want to add to the certain amount of confusion that there has been about the routine of this debate by speaking from Benches that are not my own. The only reason I am doing so is not because I am going to utter illiberal sentiments, but in the faint hope that the few things that I want to say may be more audible than they have been in the past. If they are not, it will be no loss whatsoever to your Lordships. I promise your Lordships that, speaking after the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and so many other speakers, there are but a few points that I want to make, except to explain that where I stood, as I mentioned in the last debate, I still stand.
I should like, first of all, to thank the right reverend Prelate for opening the debate in what I thought was an admirable way. It has sometimes been 1347 said that the Church of England, of which I am a professing but rarely practising member, speaks with two voices on this subject, as on many other subjects. I should be sorry to think that it spoke with only two voices. In the days of the very primitive church it spoke with at least twelve, and with the addition of St. Paul, thirteen. Fortunately, in those days, the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, was not an early practising Christian, or the amount of volubility going on would have escalated considerably. I think that what is meant by this was clearly put, as it often is, in a cartoon by Osbert Lancaster a long time ago, which represented two clerics, one of the old school. I do not think that he had a name, but I first met him when he was behind a lectern announcing that the lesson would be taken from the 33rd Chapter of Jeremiah, "trad" version. On this occasion he was sitting in his study interviewing a curate of the younger, more progressive school, and the caption was, I think:Am I to understand, Trendy, that you are campaigning for the installation of a jumbo font to baptise the entire cast of Oh! Calcutta!?He did not comment on that, but one could see from his face that he disapproved of the project, and if one had asked him on what grounds I think he would have said: "On all grounds that I can think of, and many that I cannot." Those, I think, are the grounds on which the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, disapproves of this Report, as much of the Press did, too. I shall read the noble Lord's speech with great interest, because some of his, I thought, fascinating comments went by so quickly, and particularly the order of the comparative importance of the Ten Commandments and the Two Commandments, which are generally thought to be the more important even than the Ten Commandments. And pornography he considers so much less important than what you do with your ox and ass either on Saturday or Sunday—I forget which.
What I felt about the report when I read about it in the papers, before I had the courage to get a copy, was that I was in for a shock, because it was criticised, as it has been to-night, on so many grounds which seem to me to be rather incompatible. I can remember that it was 1348 criticised for being an attempt by a minority to impose their views on a majority, and an attempt by a majority to impose their views on a minority; of ignoring public opinion altogether, and wishing to use public opinion as a criterion of these things; as a voice of one narrow-minded man, and as a conflict of voices of a great many sort of mini-men; and a good many others, all of which bears out that this is a difficult subject. I do not think one would expect it to be anything else.
There are other difficult subjects of course. Even biography, with which the noble Lord's family is connected, is not an easy subject. I remember the earliest clerihew that he ever published explained that science and biography differs from geography—one is about maps and the other about chaps. You can say that science and pornography are similar to geography in one respect—that each is fine if you know where to draw the line The whole thing that we have been discussing to-night, I think with great profit, is this difficulty of definition. I entirely agree with those speakers who have said that, although the Longford definition (if one may call it that) is not the perfect one it is a great improvement on what is thought elsewhere to be a bad one. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Soper, who said that the fact that you could not define it precisely did not really matter. I think it was A. E. Houseman who, when asked to define poetry, said that he could no more define poetry than a dog could define a rat; but he thought that they would both recognise them from the symptoms they cause. They may produce different symptoms in different people, as they evidently do.
Those who tend to be the most anti of what the report is trying to do, however unsuccessfully, rarely defend their objections on the ground that pornography is a good thing; that it just does not exist; or possibly that it is not a bad thing. I think the more frequent defence—the one that has been put up by a number of people to-night, and I think by all the first speakers—is that pornography is a regrettable thing; but it has been with us always, and the less said about it the better; it is something that we should only escalate by talking about it. I have some sympathy with that point of view, 1349 but I do not now, as I might have done five years ago, agree with it.
At this stage of the evening I shall not try to demonstrate that pornography, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said, is increasing and ought to be diminished. I think that pornography, if it is on the increase, is one of the things that cannot be dealt with effectively by saying nothing about it. As has been said, it may be the right way to deal with student demonstrations in spite of the episode yesterday, which I think reflected no credit on any one but Mr. St. JohnStevas. On the whole, student demonstrations are out to attract attention. By all means let them do so from the university, but from the public, the less the better. Pornographers—by whom I mean the high pornographers waiting behind the scenes; not those who appear in sequins in the streets or at circuses, but the men really making money from it—do not want to attract public attention. They want to get the profits, but they do not want their activities to be known about.
It seems to me indisputable that, since the Longford Inquiry has been instituted, there has been a slight slowing up in the terrifying speed at which children's toy shops of the most harmless old-fashioned kind are exhibiting things which may not be the worst thing in the world—but nobody has ever said that pornography is the worst thing in the world. They are things which should not be exhibited in children's toyshops, I should have thought, if there was any possible way of avoiding doing so. One very interesting contribution which appeared in the report was that made by Mr. Kingsley Amis and, I think, his wife regarding novels. They suggested a recommendation and although, like the rest of the report, they were against censorship, they thought that children's books might perhaps offer a case for grading, in rather the same way as films are graded, as being suitable for children. That suggestion was rejected by the Committee on the good and liberal grounds that it smacked too much of censorship. I should have thought that that very fact rather blows up the idea that the whole of this report is an attempt to establish the Spanish Inquisition again in a Puritan guise.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, 1350 berated the Committee for having a closed mind on some points. I felt that at some points in her speech she very rightly and properly closed her mind—and I see no harm in doing that when one has considered a subject carefully, as she had. I have sometimes felt that the mind, like the mouth, needs to be closed sometimes. However, my Lords, I do not wish to go on any longer. I would merely say that I am extremely grateful that the subject has been brought up. I believe that nothing but good will come of its having been criticised and debated in this way. I think it will be a relief to your Lordships now to hear somebody else rather than myself.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LAUDERDALE
My Lords, whether it will be a relief to your Lordships to hear me after hearing the noble Viscount, Lord Barrington. I cannot tell. However, I should like to take things a little further than he did when he said that "Each is fine if you know where to draw the line". That is what this debate is all about. So far from there being any need for justification or apologia, the purpose of this debate isto show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.So I join with others in expressing my thanks to the right reverend Prelate for his persistent and patient endeavours which have led to this debate. I would not pretend to endorse, or even to understand, every line of the Longford Report, but I do begin with a simple premise, which is that the British Government have a duty to uphold our civilisation. This obligation is part and parcel of the Prime Minister's proclaimed "duty to govern". This obligation is on a par with military defence, but it overrides and includes all other obligations.
Our civilisation is based on monogamous family life. It is this characteristic which is the bulwark of honour towards personality and respect for the person. As Santayana wrote:The family is one of nature's master-pieces.Surely we all agree that pornography affronts all this? Surely we all agree that pornography debases women? Surely we all agree that pornography sullies men? Surely we all agree that pornography 1351 corrupts those adolescents who have access to it? Surely we all agree that pornography involves an open challenge to family life? Poison, my Lords, is poison, however it is taken—whether through drink, to kill or numb the body; through food, to kill or numb the body; through the nostrils, to kill or numb the body; through the eyes or ears—by the sight or the sound of filth—poison numbs and distorts the rational mind and its inherited instinct or chosen values. But this poison which we are discussing—and it is a most disagreeable subject—is not only individual in its attack, it is collective in its effect because it assaults the family. Whatever, from filthy drains to filthy drawings, could have the effect of sapping family life or undermining good health, it is the Government's plain duty to resist.
There have been many different lines of attack and, if you will, my Lords, the more the merrier: no enemies, no honour. Some particularly specious arguments have been put forward this afternoon. We were told that of course it is proper to protect children but that it does not matter what adults do—or words to that effect. This argument was anticipated by the right reverend Prelate; but the simple fact is that what adults can do, the young will yearn for and learn from. We have been told that there are so many other more important problems that we should not lose time on this one; but are we to debate famine and war 24 hours a day, seven days a week? We have been told that local education authorities and the B.B.C. can be trusted to be responsible, and I now quote words used by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who spoke first for the Government in this debate. And may I say in parenthesis how much I, and no doubt many others here, enjoyed her speech? It is the first time I have heard the noble Baroness lead for the Government from the Box, and my anticipation was in no way disappointed. But she did use the word "responsible", and all I would say is that this is a subjective value judgment. In the case in question, of local education authorities on the one hand and of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. on the other, there is widespread disquiet, rightly or wrongly. We have been told that private sex or depravity concerns nobody but those 1352 directly concerned. My Lords, one might as well say that the lone drunkard does no harm to others. But he debases his own character, he sullies his surroundings and, if he has a family, he brings trouble upon them.
From other excuses for letting things ride, I select and challenge three. First of all, there is this old red herring—and I must say that I was sorry to hear this argument being alluded to, apparently with some measure of sympathy, by the noble Baroness in her opening speech—the idea that we must be careful of infringing freedom. Of course we must be careful of infringing freedom; but that is really not the issue. There is the cry against censorship, coupled with such pejorative phrases as "the prohibitive society", to quote a headline in the Guardian. My Lords, we gladly prohibit in many ways. We prohibit a man using the fruit of his toil, of his savings, of his inheritance, to do as he likes; and we redistribute it for him. We readily prohibit free speech on race relations. We parentally prohibit our young from this or that in the cause, if you will, of simple preventive medicine.
Prohibition and censorship are simply parrot cries which have little relevance to this problem. So far as literal censorship itself is concerned we all know that there is the British Board of Film Censors, and those of us who have worked in the media, whether it is the Press, radio or television, know that there is a self-imposed censorship voluntarily operated by the media on matters of national defence. Even if we should like these operations strengthened, the principle of censorship already exists. How it is imposed, how it is arrived at, is another matter. The censorship argument simply does not bear examination. We not only do not allow our children to eat muck gathered from the gutter, we employ a public cleansing department to clear the gutters in the interests of public health. This is what we do. Then, for fear of being called "square", or accused of seeking to limit freedom (which as the noble Lord, Lord Soper, so rightly reminded us is simply the pinnacle of self-restraint rather than another name for license) and being accused of censorship, I say, why leave gutter filth about parcelled in titillating tinsel, there to poison 1353 the minds and hearts and to ruin the most private emotions?
The second argument (or shall I say "attack"?) that is brought is the attack by way of humour ranging into mockery; and since the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, was not here at the opening of the debate and declared he had little intention of staying until it ended, I am bound to say that he reminds me of two persons: first of all, the man who never was, because there was some obscurity about when, whether and in what order, the noble Lord was going to speak; then the famous character who asked: "What is truth?", but would not stay for an answer. The noble Lord's innocence was shown by his inability to recognise a red light until it had signalled 33 minutes. He dismissed the problem as one of mere metropolitan concern, evidently unaware that some 50 per cent. of the people of this Island live on 3 per cent. of its land space. He gave us a clever and amusing speech, as he always does, but I cannot help but remind him—because I am sure he will want to read the debate to-morrow, if he has time from his other occupations—that Mr. Spender wrote:Cleverness and stupidity are generally in the same boat against wisdom.The humour argument is one that we have to look at with some care and which has not been raised, except under cover of mockery, to-night. It is one of the subtlest used by the "porno" purveyors when lewdness or filth is conveyed on radio or T.V., coupled with suggestive motions, even if these are only motions of the eyes by an actor. The humour argument was raised only this week when, by letter, Mrs. Whitehouse approached the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications about the B.B.C. playing a "Top of the Pops" song which some would call soft "porn" and which at any rate had an evident double meaning, a double entendre, called My ding-a-ling. The song may or may not be as suggestive of private and mutual masturbation as is claimed; but listen to the excuse attributed in the Press, and so far as I am aware not denied, to Philips records, the publishers: so far from denying any double entendre they say, and I quote from the Press:Any double meaning was in the grand tradition of British humour.1354 That was their defence. The very same used to be said of that B.B.C. satirical programme, That was The Week That Was, much of which was so extraordinarily funny. But the minute society says, "You can laugh at anything, it is only fun, it is only British humour", you are saying something very dangerous indeed. For you are saying, in effect, that your children can, if they like, mock a lame old man stumbling across the road. If you say you are free to laugh at anything you like, then you can say you are free to mock the brave to ridicule the holy, to disparage the intimate. If you say that you can laugh at anything you like, you might just as well tell children that they may laugh at their mother.
The third argument is the classic Government excuse. The Government always tend to say, and this seems to have been the implication of the speech of the noble Baroness this afternoon, "Well, we do not have the powers". That may well be—indeed, thee is the Denning judgment to suggest it. But the argument, "we do not have the powers" may very well mean—and the object of this debate is to probe this very point—"we do not want the powers either." I have a typical example. I do not for a minute impugn the honour, the honourable intentions or the sincerity or probity of my noble friend Lord Belstead, who is involved in this matter. He told me just now that he would not be here to listen to my speech, and I warned him that I was going to raise what I now have to say.
Last winter, controversy arose over a film called Growing Up, supposedly made to help schools and others teach sex, but without any reference to self-control, let alone ethics. It elicited a Question on the Order Paper in this House from the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton. I warned the noble Baroness that I would make this reference and she gave me what was in effect her consent for what I am going to say. My noble friend Lord Belstead in answering the Questions excused the Government from intervening in that matter by saying:responsibility for secular instruction in schools rests with the local education authorities, the governing bodies of schools, and head teachers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26/1/72; col. 321.]1355 Arising from a supplementary question of mine about self-control my noble friend Lord Belstead and I exchanged, at rather a slow rate, a long correspondence. It led finally to the following statement, and this is what I have warned the Government I propose to quote, because I think it is important. It was very much in the spirit of the speech of the noble Baroness earlier this afternoon. My noble friend Lord Belstead said:Curriculum matters are usually regarded as a professional matter for teachers; the Education Acts do not give the Secretary of State any power to prescribe what subjects (other than religious instruction) shall be taught in schools, or how they should be taught … it is necessary to avoid appearing to tell teachers what to teach or how to teach it.I do not deny that that is the situation. But it cannot be right for the Government simply to go on sheltering behind the statement, "We have no powers", without justification in terms of their paramount obligation to defend our civilisation and to defend family life. It may be right that these matters should remain with the local education authorities; I do not know.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, who gives the Government powers to defend family life? If I thought that the Government were going to defend family life I would certainly vote against them even more strongly than I do now, As Mr. Macmillan, a member of the noble Earl's Party, said, "If I want moral inspiration I will go to the Archbishop of Canterbury". I do not want the Government defending family life, and I do not think a lot of other people do, either.
§ THE EARL OF LAUDERDALE
My Lords, I am obliged for the noble Lord's intervention. I understood him to open his speech earlier by saying that he agreed with everything the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, had said and that was why I did not directly address my arguments to him. But when he says: "Who gave this Government power to defend family life?" I say: "Who gave this Government power to defend the country? Who gave this Government the power to govern? What is implied in government?" If the noble Lord thinks that it is only for the Church—he is, after all, an ordained priest—to instruct us on these matters, I am afraid I do not agree with 1356 him. However, this is a matter on which we can legitimately differ. I am not saying that the Government's job is to exhort. They have done too much of that in the last twenty or thirty years. I am saying—I repeat and I assert—that the people of this country expect the Government to protect our civilisation; that that is founded on family life and this is something which the Government have to protect. A priest of the Church of England may disagree with that, but if so, then he had better talk to his own Bishop about it.
The kind of answers one receives when the Government say: "We don't have the powers", raise the question: Do they want the powers? It may be that they would consider, like the noble Lord opposite, that any intervention in this field is improper. But they do not claim that. They have said, on the contrary, that it is proper that public authorities should behave responsibly. Indeed, they therewith assert value judgments. So the argument does not quite apply. But whether the Government want powers or not, will they say, as they might: "Well, we haven't got them and we can't get them. Parliament wouldn't give them to us"? I do not want to rake up old controversies, but it is too recent an experience for me to miss the opportunity of reminding your Lordships that the Government which, rightly or wrongly, but in the teeth of sustained Parliamentary opposition, can drive through both Houses of Parliament, unamended by a single jot or tittle, the most contentious and revolutionary constitutional change in three centuries, can scarcely be believed if they say they cannot take or get the powers they believe necessary.
My Lords, I do not pretend to endorse every line of the Longford Report, but what I say is that humour is a phoney excuse for doing "nix". Censorship and pejorative phrases about the prohibitive society are a specious excuse for doing "nix". "We don't have the powers and we don't see how to take them", is a cowardly excuse for doing "nix", all the less creditable from a Government which boast, "Our duty is to govern". So I join those other noble Lords who finished their speeches with, or built them around the question: Are the Government ready, or are they not ready, to take steps to amend the Obscenity Act?
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ LORD STOW HILL
My Lords, I listened with great interest to the philosophical approach of the noble Earl who has just sat down but I hope he will understand if I do not follow him in it. I want to limit my remarks and, I am afraid, to reduce them to a much more pedestrian plane. The great advantage of being able, without any skulduggery, to follow both my noble friend Lord Longford and my noble friend Lord Goodman is that I was able—and I am sure the House enjoyed it with me—to listen to their very charming personal exchange with which they terminated those references to each other which they thought it appropriate to make. I should like to add, and I add it on behalf of every Member of your Lordships' House, this further epilogue to that exchange: that we, all of us, hold them both in great affection and admiration. I am sure I have all your Lordships' assents to that.
I feel wholly unconvinced by the bulk of the content of this report. I hesitated to intervene in this debate because what I had prepared to say was so admirably stated I thought by my noble friend Lord Goodman, and what I will say now is somewhat repetitive of what he said. I start by approaching the subject upon the basis that, broadly speaking, it is unproven whether and to what extent "porn", if I may use that expression, really does harm. The report itself contains statements by experts which leave the matter in doubt. It also contains an account of a sadistic incident with a sexual undertone in the life of Casanova. What effect that would have I should have thought can be pretty confidently asserted as being to make almost everybody who reads it physically sick; and, if they have any latent sadistic instincts in their nature, to shake them off. I should have thought that that pornographic account was one which would do good rather than the reverse; make us kinder rather than less kind. But the whole matter is one of great uncertainty. I can only draw upon the experience that all your Lordships can draw upon. I am not an expert (or, I hope, an export) in pornography, although some years ago I had some public responsibility in these matters and made it my business, as I thought it was my duty, to study what then seemed to be the dimensions of this problem.
1358 My next point is that it seems to me very much open to question what are the dimensions of the problem. The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, said there was very little evidence in the report as to the dimensions of it. In Chapter 2 the Committee seek to investigate that aspect of the problem and set out certain figures. I would only comment upon them that if those are the figures which are found to be applicable to a population, largely living in great cities, of over 52 million people, they do not seem to me to present any great cause for alarm. I should have thought they were very small, rather than very large. I therefore conclude at the outset that in the report, to the extent that there is a mischief, its nature and its dimensions are very considerably overstated. I believe that the vast majority of our fellow citizens do not go out after "porn"; it does not much come their way; they do not bother their heads about it. In this fascinating world of the 1970s we are all confronted daily with an endless array of public topics which are, I should have thought, of far more engrossing interest to the average citizen than is "porn".
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, may I ask the noble and learned Lord a question, not in a desire to be amusing? Why is it that so many noble Lords have put down their names to speak to-day—I think twenty-five or so—if there is no interest in this subject at all?
§ LORD STOW HILL
My Lords, I did not say there was no interest in it at all. It is the subject raised in this debate. It would be discourteous to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, if we did not take some interest in the massive labours which he has undertaken, and placed before the public and this House for its consideration. Indeed, I would go further and say we ought to be grateful to him. Any noble Lord who calls attention to a matter of public interest—I do not use an adjective of degree to categorise that public interest—I think deserves our gratitude; and for that I am grateful to the noble Earl.
§ LORD STOW HILL
My Lords, I might almost limit myself to saying that. However, might I proceed? I do not know, but I should have thought that if one, at a hazard, asked the first hundred people one met outside this House where one could find the sort of instruments which are described in the report, or where one could find a live representation of a sexual act, after they had got over their astonishment at the inquiry they would scratch their heads and say they had not the remotest idea; it had never occurred to them to ask, and they were less interested still. I should have thought that that was the attitude of the ordinary citizens of this country.
Of course, there are unbalanced people. Of course, there are people in their middle age who, for one reason or another, find it necessary to calm or assuage their feelings by reading certain types of book, There always have been; there always will be; and it does not matter what the law says, they will always seek after those things. If one goes out for "porn", I do not care what laws one passes one will always find it if one has the money. I believe the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, when he speaks at the end of this debate, is going to announce some proposals to deal with—I do not quite know what, but I think it is advertisements, and so on. I hope he has in mind, and I am sure lie has with his great judgment and experience, the undesirability of putting upon the Statute Book laws which cannot be enforced. It is a great mistake just to drive this stuff under the counter. By so doing it is a very good way of increasing the emoluments of pornographers, whoever they may be. It brings the law into disrepute. When, over a quarter of a century ago, I walked into the Law Officers' department I imbibed this truth very early, especially as we then had rationing and that sort of thing and other then necessary attempts to interfere with people's private choice and private liberty, which broadly speaking would be in a remote sense analogous to what I suppose is proposed—I do not say necessarily proposed but proposed in fact, and I suppose under contemplation by the Government. I will say no more about it than that.
So I approach this upon the basis that really, as my noble friend Lord Goodman said, it is a great pity just to concen- 1360 trate one's gaze and one's attention on this particular aspect of human activity in this wonderful great people of ours, with its magnificent personal freedoms, its active social, intellectual and political life, and to try to persuade oneself that really this is a major element in our national makeup. I put it to your Lordships' House that it just is not. It is not as important as all that.
Having said that, and having completed, by so doing, what I want to say about the report in general, I turn to the proposals. May I at this stage address myself directly to the right reverend Prelate, and may I also call him the "right relevant Prelate" because I thought that was exactly what he was. In opening this debate, with the greatest possible clarity, he drew the attention of your Lordships to the proposals which are contained in that report, and it is on those proposals that I now want to say a word or two. May I say at once that I leave on one side and do not propose to touch upon what I regard as perhaps rather peripheral questions concerning advertisements, and so on, and I go direct to that which the right reverend Prelate addressed himself to, namely, the proposal to substitute for the definition in Sections 1 and 4 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 a new definition of obscenity; namely, that a publication is obsceneif its effect, taken as a whole, tends to outrage contemporary standards of decency and humanity as accepted by the public at large.I would very much regret it if we were to substitute that definition for the existing definition.
I believe we owe a great debt of gratitude to Mr. Roy Jenkins and those who collaborated with him in working out the basic elements of that 1959 Act. It is an extremely difficult Act to work out; it is an extremely difficult concept to compose in a great country like ours where we cherish as our major freedom the unfettered right to exchange ideas, to say what we like, to think what we like, to portray what we like, subject to certain well-defined limitations to which, over the years, over the decades, over the centuries, we have become accustomed, and which we acknowledge: the law of libel, the law of profanity and the law of sedition, and perhaps the latest 1361 intervention in the completely free expression of opinion and of the use of words—namely the forbidding (for which I had some direct personal responsibility) of the public dissemination of race hatred. I remember being roundly denounced, when I sought to commend in another place the provisions of the 1965 Act which imposed those limitations, as a Home Secretary who had little or no regard for freedom of speech. I am completely unrepentant. I am sure I was right in what I did then. Why? Because the history of this half century shows that the dissemination publicly of race hatred can cause immense harm.
The Obscene Publications Act 1959 poses, roughly speaking, the same test. One looks at Section 1 of that Act and one is told there that a work is obscene if, when it is taken as a whole, a jury can be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that it tends to corrupt and deprave those who are likely to see it or read it. I submit to your Lordships that that is a practical, sensible test to which reasonable people will be ready to conform. The question is, can a jury be satisfied that it will do harm? Even if it can be shown that its tendency is to deprave and corrupt, taken as a whole, nevertheless, if it can be shown that the work in question has some countervailing literary, scientific or other merit which justifies its publication, no offence is committed. When I studied this matter before, and on the occasions when I considered my noble friend's report—which, if I may say so to him, I have read through, word for word, all 520 pages, with great interest and with some enjoyment—I have really thought it is extremely difficult to better that definition.
Mr. Raymond Blackburn may, I understand, be appealing, and therefore it would not be right for me to make comments on some of the observations which fell from the lips of the Master of the Rolls and the Lord Justices of Appeal who heard his appeal, because there may be a further appeal. Otherwise I should have wished to comment on those observations and to challenge them. I put it in this way. Suppose there is a book, or something of the sort, which is being put before a jury and it has been urged by counsel for the prosecution that it is 1362 likely to fall into the hands of a particular type or group of people, or people of a particular age, and that it is likely to corrupt and deprave them. The jury listen to that and to the evidence in support of it, and they say, "Well, we are not satisfied that it is likely so to do. We do not know. It has not been proved to us". I ask a simple question: in a civilised country, should there be a conviction for supplying that sort of work to persons of that sort when nobody can say whether it will do them harm or not? I say that the answer unhesitatingly must be, "No, certainly not". If it is shown that middle aged, unbalanced people are the kind of people who buy that sort of book and it cannot be shown that it does them any harm, why should there be a conviction? I should have thought it was totally uncivilised to convict in a case like that.
Then both the report and the Master of the Rolls criticised Section 4 on the basis that it involved the proposition that it was sometimes in the public interest for pornography to be circulated. My answer is that that is not what Section 4 says. Section 4 says that even if it is shown that there is a tendency to deprave or corrupt those who may read it. nevertheless if its circulation is in the public interest because it has a countervailing merit of a literary or scientific or other kind, there is no offence. That seems to me to be civilised and common sense, and I think reasonable people would be ready, and are ready, to accept it. If I am asked whether I think that the 1959 Act should be replaced, I wait to see what is proposed to replace it. It is not perfect. It is extremely difficult to draft legislation which is perfect in that sense. What the report proposes to put in its place is I think utterly undesirable—namely, the definition of obscenity in these words:outrages contemporary standards of decency or of humanity as accepted by the public at large".How do you find out what are the standards which are accepted by the public at large? Who, in that context, are "the public at large"?
THE LORD BISHOP OF LEICESTER
My Lords, with great respect may I ask the noble and learned Lord how one decides whether something will corrupt or deprave?
§ LORD STOW HILL
By listening carefully to the evidence of the psychologists and others who are called before one if one is sitting on a jury so that one can ask oneself, "Have they or have they not satisfied me?" If one is left in doubt, one must acquit. That seems to me to be quite sensible.
Coming to the question of the standard of public taste, to use that phrase as a short description of the proposed definition, I suggest that the basic fallacy on which that definition is based is its assumption that there is an ascertainable, definable consensus on the part of right-minded people as to what is proper and what is not. That is not, with respect, the case. I accept at once that at one end of the scale there will be works, books and so on, which nobody could argue could possibly offend even the most susceptible prudish taste. At the other end of the scale will be works which most though probably not all people will agree are unmeritorious and wholly coarse. The difficulty, however, lies in the vast number of gradations in between. There are endless examples which come between those two extremes about which reasonable people will differ. Some will think that those works which fall in the intervening area should be suppressed. Other, just as reasonable, people will think it outrageous that they should be suppressed and we have to live together with our differences. We must live our lives without breaking each other's crowns and that is what we have succeeded in doing and what the 1959 Act helps to enable us to go on doing.
What is the situation? There are reticences which I suppose in the time of our parents were thought to be indispensible by the reasonable and sensible people of those days. Equally reasonable people these days would think those reticences a joke. I am sure that your Lordships know of books by modern authors. In my opinion, many of them are of very great merit and I have read a large number of them. Many such modern works are, in sexual topics, extremely explicit, so explicit that if they had been written twenty or thirty years ago they would have left their readers speechless with astonishment. But do they do us harm? If they do, let them be brought before a jury and an attempt made to satisfy the jury that they do us 1364 harm. But if we are to have this standard of public taste, the result, I submit, will be utterly capricious and arbitrary. It will depend on who is on the jury.
The report in a passage which distressed and shocked me and which must have distressed and shocked many of your Lordships recounts how when Thomas Hardy wrote Jude The Obscure in 1896 Bishop Howe publicly announced that he had burnt his copy and how a Mrs. Oliphant of those days subjected the author to a Press campaign alleging that he was immoral and had run down the institution of marriage. The result was that he did not write novels for some years. That is what the report says and I assume it is accurate. Speaking for myself, and rather figuratively as one of the "public at large"—and I believe I am not the only person who thinks this way—I would sooner risk having truckloads of concrete hard "porn" than a repetition in a modern context of that Jude the Obscure incident with the sanction of our criminal courts. It is totally wrong I think to consider this question without considering its implications for that precious basic freedom of being allowed to say what we think, subject to the well known exceptions to which I have referred.
I respectfully submit that before this House presses on with a desire that there should be a change on the lines proposed, noble Lords should consider the implications on the broad freedom of the human spirit. To adopt this arbitrary change would be a great mistake not only because it would be arbitrary but because it would be the wrong test. We should be allowed to flout and challenge public opinion. That is the only way by which we can subject ourselves to a constant process of self analysis and make sure that cherished and accepted beliefs are submitted to constant examination with the passage of time. Public opinion is not and should not be static. It should be open to challenge and if we adopt this standard of public taste, when it can be ascertained, I suppose it will prohibit what are regarded as outrageous challenges.
What is the meaning of "humanity" in this context? It would outrage I should have thought standards of humanity to portray, for example, pictures of naked human bodies starved and 1365 tortured stacked up in Belsen as they were seen at the end of the last war. Are we not to be allowed to look at them? Where would this get one, and if the Government decided to start on this path, where would it end? The proposals in the Report are very wrongheaded. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, knows without my telling him that I greatly respect his sincerity of purpose and all of us who have watched his splendid public career know that he is amply imbued with courage and sincerity. On this occasion, however, I believe he has gone badly wrong and if we have to stand up and be counted, I declare myself to be utterly unsympathetic to his proposals.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
May I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that these proposals were drawn up by a very highly qualified legal subcommittee and that it was not a question of my going wrong personally? I had the privilege of being able to agree with that legal sub-committee, as did our main committee. It is giving a false impression for the noble Lord to imply that in some way I had thought out these ideas.
§ LORD STOW HILL
My Lords, I assure the noble Earl that I had no intention of giving such an impression. I knew that a guiding spirit was my noble friend Lord Fletcher, with whom I worked for many years and who is well known to me. I entirely accept what the noble Earl says. I start from the basis that a great deal of thought has gone into the preparation of this formula. One of the vices in it is that in spite of all the effort that has been made to try to produce it, it is still open to those obvious criticisms which cannot be got round.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ LORD BIRKETT
My Lords, like the rest of your Lordships, I should like to see children protected and I am anxious to see that nobody is unwillingly drowned in a sea of unsolicited pornography. Like most of your Lordships, I can see that the present law is difficult, some would say incapable, of administration. Nevertheless, I cannot like this report. Indeed, I like very little about it. I do not like the look of it. It looks too much like an official and impartial Report, or at 1366 least, to be fair to it, it would if its cover were torn off.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, cannot have it both ways. He cannot accuse us of giving it a pornographic look and at the same time making it look like a Stationery Office publication. He is starting off in an unfair way and I am sure that he does not wish to continue along that line.
§ LORD BIRKETT
My Lords, I stand corrected. One five hundred and twentieths of it does not look like an official Report; the other five hundred and nineteenths of it are all too easily confused with a document of that nature. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, share my mistrust of such a document. This is not to put blame on the Commission, who I am sure intended no deception. No matter what the right reverend Prelate may say about the nature of its intentions, I am bound to say that I like my reports to be impartial and that I find several things about this report extremely suspicious. For example, I do not like the way in which it treats its rivals. The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, may have been rather too shy to say this, but I think that the report of the Arts Council Working Party was given less than adequate space in the 520 pages of this report. Space it has not stinted itself, and a slightly fuller reference might have been made to what was a very important document, even if it disagreed with the final outcome of this Committee's report.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, we in fact interviewed half a dozen members of that body, including the chairman, Mr. Montgomery. Taking matters in the round, I feel that they had very full treatment.
§ LORD BIRKETT
Well, I am grateful to the noble Earl for that intervention and perhaps I stand corrected, but my impression was that it had been rather put on one side as something which should not be emphasised too much in this report. I certainly think it is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, pointed out, of the Majority Report of the American Commission. Since lie has mentioned it I shall not pursue the matter except to say that twice in the 1367 Report, and once in the report to-day, the President's remarks on the subject were brought up and it is time that they were quoted again and looked at a little more carefully. The President in more or less dismissing out of hand the Majority Report in America, said:The Commission contends that the proliferation of filthy books and plays has no lasting harmful effect on a man's character. If that be true, it must also be true that great books, great paintings and great plays have no ennobling effect on a man's conduct. Centuries of civilisations and ten minutes of common-sense will tell us otherwise.Well, five seconds of really quite superficial thought led me to suppose that this simply does not follow. The second proposition does not follow the first. It is like saying that if one pill does you no harm then no other pill can possibly do you any good. In any case, if it did follow then it is a very questionable statement to say that great plays should have, an ennobling effect on man's actions or upon his conduct: perhaps upon himself and perhaps upon his spirit. Nobody is more in tune with the world's great literature than I am—I have a great passion for it and for its paintings and music; but whether it ennobles a man's conduct I should have thought was very open to question. I would have thought it behoved the Commission to think very much more carefully about the President's crisp little sentences before adopting them so wholeheartedly as a reason for excluding the Majority Report, by and large, from its own.
I do not like either the use of what I call "bogeyman words". "Commercialism" occurs throughout the report, and every time the word "commercial" or the word "exploitation" appears a little frisson of distaste runs through the report. That is understandable, but one should ask oneself whether it is not simply an automatic bogeyman response. After all, half the great artists of the world have commercially exploited everything that they do. Most of our lives are devoted to commercial exploitation. Surely it is another word for earning one's living. If it is a nice, large, fat living then everybody looks a bit more askance, but at the same time that is what it is about. The elements of exploitation and commercialism in pornography are understandably regarded as nastier than 1368 those very self-same elements of exploitation and commercialisation in other fields. But the words themselves should not perhaps carry the same weight of distaste as they do in the report. An even more disturbing word is "voyeurism". The minute that the word "voyeurism" or the word "voyeur" occur people instantly assume that the hardest of hard pornography is in question. But the very nature of voyeurism is in a minute way the essence of art. The great Greek tragedies, which I suppose are not the greatest but the earliest, surviving full-scale masterpieces of any sort, are essentially based on the fact that one would rather witness the horrors and triumphs of the world in their most grandiose form than suffer them oneself. That is one of the elements of catharsis and one of the elements of all great art, I suggest, in a small degree. But beware of a word which automatically is regarded as something to be pushed beneath the carpet.
§ LORD BIRKETT
The word "catharsis" was surely not used in any pejorative sense in your report, unless I am mistaken.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LEICESTER
If I understood the noble Lord aright, he was staying that catharsis is a good thing, and I am just drawing his attention to the fact that this is a word which has a kind of aura of connotation around it in the same way that every word has.
§ LORD BIRKETT
My Lords, I absolutely subscribe to the right reverend Prelate's remarks in that direction. One should, I agree, beware of words which have an aura of blessing about them or automatic good as well as words which have an aura of automatic ill. With that I agree wholeheartedly, but the Committee itself said at one point, with what I think may be taken to be something of a cheek:We thought we should not be restricted by semantic niceties and that we should go beyond dictionary definitions.I wish they had been restricted by semantic niceties and I wish they had not gone beyond dictionary definitions, because in the last resort clarity is what 1369 we are all seeking in this somewhat turgid matter, and clarity after all, if it cannot be achieved with the aid of the dictionaries of the world and the lexicographers of the world whose task is clarity and clarity through differentiation, I do not know where clarification is to come from at all. The use of words, particularly in a context like this, is of such vital importance that one should perhaps pay more respect to dictionary definitions than we normally do.
I cannot say that I really like the reports of the sub-committees, but lest you should wonder whether I am going into my dislikes on all of them, let me say that I am not. It occured to me in passing that so much reference was made about sex education and the duties of parents, that perhaps somebody ought to point out, what is perhaps a cynical view, that the responsibilities of parents in these matters are so often not carried out. It would be a wonderful world in which the need for sex education in any other form except parental advice were unnecessary, but alas! the need is all too enormously apparent un and down the country.
My own particular sphere, of course, is films and on that the report of the subcommittee filled me with alarm and despondency. We are the only people at the moment who have a censor, in the proper sense of the term, and I am bound to say that for an industry which does very little except complain we have been extraordinarily happy with our censor. Many people would be happy to have nothing to do with censorship and for my own part I should be happier if there were not one at all, but the operation of that system has, by and large, been extremely good. This is in very large measure due to the personality of the last censor. I intend no disrespect to the present one who has not been incumbent in that position for long, but I refer to Mr. John Trevelyan. Mr. John Trevelyan was an extremely civilised and humane creature, and very cultured as well; and the advantage of that system especially when the position was occupied by somebody like John Trevelyan, was that he was in a position to talk as an equal to film makers who were about to make films and to advise them on what his attitude or the attitude of his Board might be. He might say, "This is very questionable and it will depend on how 1370 you handle it, but I should be wary of this if I were you". He would warn one in advance of where the danger point would be from his point of view. The suggestions made in the Longford Report, that is to say of a much wider based body, would make life really impossible for film makers. The suggestion that the general public, the local authorities, and Government appointments should all form together into a great pool to decide about these things is not a possibility in my view, and I find it extremely alarming.
But, of course, all these objections are small by comparison with the main nub of the matter which is what to do about it. The actual proposals for action that the Longford Report comes up with—in other words its draft Bill, because in that is encapsulated the whole of its conclusions—I must say I view with the gravest alarm. It is all very well for the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, to say out of hand that this is not a matter where liberty and freedom come into question. But it is a matter where liberty and freedom come in, and it is no good laughing out of court the idea that a libertarian angle can be taken on this report. It is precisely from that point of view that I find the report most alarming.
The proposed definition of what shall be deemed obscene has already been exhaustively gone into by the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, and far better than I can do it, but it occurs to me to wonder, if you set out the word "outrage" as the central word in this important phrase, how close the word "outrage" is to the word "offence", and how close the word "offence" is to the word "shock". I am not one whit reassured by the words of Lord Simon of Glaisdale which were quoted in the report, and quoted again to-day by Lord Fletcher, although they are words instinct with wisdom:It should be emphasised that 'outrage', like 'corrupt', is a very strong word. Outraging public decency goes considerably beyond offending the susceptibilities of or even shocking reasonable people.It may well be a strong word when used among people using and choosing their words carefully, but that with "12 good men and true" is not likely to be the situation. One must deal in the general context of words, which daily are debased, 1371 and "outrage" is a word often used in the mildest sense. It requires some thought to remember that "outrage" is a strong word. While one is dealing with the "12 good men and true", or the 10 out of 12 who will be required to decide these matters, will it be the judge who directs them as to what the current state of public decency is and asks them to decide whether it has been offended, or are the jury to decide what is the current state of public decency?
I am susceptible to the argument that it is no good running away from one's responsibilities by saying, "It is all too difficult to administer. I cannot understand the thing; it is incapable of definition, and therefore we should do nothing". I do not believe it is an argument for doing nothing, but I believe it is a very strong argument for not adopting the draft Bill proposed in this report. And on top of that, to knock away totally the defence of public good based upon literary or scientific merit seems to me, to use Lord Lauderdale's words, a specious argument, because the reason it is being knocked away is because, according to the report, the present formula has been misused; that expert witnesses called to give expert opinion about literary merit have been allowed to express opinions about obscenity. If that is the only objection, let them not be permitted.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, the noble Lord will no doubt know that the Court of Appeal has already said that they must not do it any more.
§ LORD BIRKETT
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Viscount for that intervention, because surely that has now cured any objection to this defence of public good. If the Court of Appeal has so ruled, why should we have any further problem? At any rate, I regard this suggested Bill and its two important clauses as being a very serious libertarian issue, not because any of those concerned with the report would wish to diminish the liberties of the subject but because once placed there there would always be the danger and possibility that it may be so used; and that is a danger so great that nothing must be allowed to countenance it. It is the thin 1372 end of a wedge which extends deeply and broadly into the very basis of our human freedom.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ BARONESS LEE OF ASHERIDGE
My Lords, a great deal which I should have liked to say has already been said most eloquently. I hope it is quite clear that if the central theme of to-day's debate had been pornography it would have been a crashing bore and would not have justified the attendance in your Lordships' House and the number of speakers who have asked to take part in this debate. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, said, "Of course, there is great interest in pornography; see the number of Members of your Lordships' House who have asked to be called to speak". But listening to this debate it must surely be clear, and it was stated most eloquently by Lord Birkett, by Lord Stow Hill and by others who have spoken, that what we are really concerned about to-day is the freedom of the Press, the freedom of literature, the freedom of the theatre, the freedom of creative artists in every form.
I cannot think of anything that would be more damaging to everything we value in a free society than to adopt some of the central formulas in Lord Longford's report. The noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, mentioned that even Hardy's Jude the Obscure was a subject for censorship. All that fuss about Lady Chatterley's Lover! So far as I know, all that happened was that a lot of small boys and girls, those of my generation, who used the Old Testament under the desk at school to try to find out about the facts of life, had the marked passages of Lady Chatterley's Lover instead. That was the wonderful advertisement that was given to it by prohibition. Indeed, one of my more flippant friends, talking about pornography, said, "It's much too good for the working classes. You need a sound classical education before you can really enjoy it." I have not had a sound classical education: I have no Greek; my Latin is very poor; it does not go much beyond "Amo, Amas, Amat" There is not much left to learn for any educated youngster who has studied the classics.
So what are we trying to do? Surely we are not trying to limit literature in any sense. And surely we are not our- 1373 selves so illiterate as to imagine that majority contemporary opinion, in any country at any time, is capable of judging what is worth painting, singing, writing or playing. There would have been no ancient literature. There would have been no Chaucer. My own Robert Burns was incapable of pornography; he was just robust and straightforward. Have you any idea what the Kirk Elders said about Robert Burns in his day? We should have had no literature if that criterion had been applied. I am quite sure that my good friend the noble Earl, Lord Longford, did not set out on this crusade in order to limit the freedom of artists, genuine creative artists; that would be the last thing he would want to do. But it is only the artist who is endangered by his proposals. You cannot legislate against pornography. All you can do is to put it under the carpet. If I had to choose between sex sadism and political sadism, I would prefer the first. Do not let us underestimate the fact that there is a connection between the two.
Some of us knew Berlin when it was the most permissive capital in the Western World. Hitler made great play about cleaning up the side shows; it was all going to be nice, clean living, out in the open air, singing out of tune together. He cleaned up the side shows in Berlin, but where do you think the purveyors of pornography went, where do you think the customer went, where do you think this crippled type, the people who were not fortunate enough to have a childhood where they were well loved or to have normal love in life later on, went; where do you think those Berliners went who were making fortunes in the Berlin underworld, or their customers? I will tell you were they went: they were given a licence for cruelty in the ranks of the Storm Troopers. After all, there was nothing in the titillation of using a whip in a bedroom compared with stripping six million men, women and children naked, even taking the gold fillings out of their teeth. I am not going to pursue this line too far, but if you repress certain thwarted instincts in one direction you are apt to get them coming out in another direcion.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I do not want to interrupt, but I cannot quite follow the noble Baroness's 1374 drift. I gather that she was arguing a moment or two ago that Berlin before Hitler was an immensely permissive place and that somehow that led on to Hitler. I do not follow her argument, to put it bluntly.
§ BARONESS LEE OF ASHERIDGE
My Lords, my argument is that the kind of sadism and pornography that you had in Berlin, that you have in all the great capitals, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, said, did an infinitely minute amount of harm compared with what happens when that same instinct towards wounding and cruelty in human nature takes other forms.
I believe that many of our ablest young writers and playrights are trying to understand this problem of cruelty in human nature. There were those who were shocked by Edward Bond's play Saved, where an infant was stoned, but the whole theme of that was how frustration, and boredom, and ignorance led youths on from first teasing a child to ultimately murdering a child. Well, I think that there is a great deal of boredom frustration and intellectual and spiritual poverty in our country at the present time, as well as material poverty, and I believe that the way to make a better society is not to get everything out of perspective, as I believe, with all respect, the Longford Report does, but to try to understand what makes human beings behave in certain ways and how far it is possible for us to understand the many mysterious elements that still remain about human motivation.
I believe that we have to be humble; we have to accept that there is a great deal that we do not know about human beings, human phychology, human needs. But there are other things that we do know. In the other place they are to-day discussing the problem of thalidomide children. For ten years they and their parents have been made the playthings of legal proceedings. I would define that as an obscenity. I consider it obscene when you have a youngster leaving school full of life, ready to find a place in the world, and there is no place for him. I am not saying that if we had a society where there was no unemployment and where there was kindness and light everywhere there would be no pornography; all I am saying is that this concentration 1375 on pornography is largely irrelevant, because the manners and tastes of any community are going to be decided by the general levels of education and other opportunities. That is why, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, has already said, for seven years when he was Chairman of the Arts Council—and I am sure that his successor will carry on in the same great tradition—we were trying to bring to people better opportunities. I believe that that is the way forward. You are not going to destroy or remove pornography by any kind of legislation.
Of course, what you can do is take better care of the children. I was amused when I heard some Members of your Lordships' House describe how they taught their own children the facts of life, because, quite frankly, even the best of parents often prefer to leave that to a grandmother or an aunt, as I happen to know. Very often it is some other older person in the family who can talk to the children much better than direct teaching from their own parents. But we were talking about civilised, responsible families. There are children who do not have that kind of home background, and I listened with the greatest admiration to the contribution made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, and others who were talking particularly about the need to ensure that children do not grow up in fear and with a sense of guilt, and with thwarted mentalities. After all, if we insist on sending a lot of little boys to boarding schools when they are teenagers, when sexual tensions are extremely strong, and pack them all together and give them a classical education, and some of them end up by saying, "Men for pleasure, women for duty", who is to blame? I consider that a kind of deprived upbringing, for a child to be segregated from a home climate. I have my prejudices; I may be wrong; but what I do insist on is that we have so many major problems facing us of housing, health, unemployment, young ones who are needing to be helped to raise their eyes to the stars, and who are needing both their bodies and minds to be properly nourished.
At the end of the day, do not let us be too hypocritical; a little pornography has never done anyone any harm. We 1376 must keep a sense of proportion about all those things, and above all—and I believe that this is the thing that has justified every moment of this debate—we must save our valued Lord Longford from doing a desperate mischief: in seeking to cure what he considers one kind of social evil he could rally round him very dangerous company who would take advantage of his well-meant sentiments in order to strangle some of our most precious freedoms.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, the noble Baroness talked a good deal about cruelty, but would she not agree that the greatest fun in life is growing up, and the greatest fun in growing up is finding out? Therefore, would she not agree that the pornographers should be prosecuted, if only for being spoilsports and killjoys?
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, all those who have spoken seem very well united in their thanks to the right reverend Prelate for initiating this debate, to which I certainly add my thanks. Further, most of them seemed to express some general disapproval of the permissiveness in to-day's society, though perhaps they differ as to the importance of it. For myself, there was not perhaps a great deal in the report under discussion that has come my way. However, I am a man, I hope human, and liable to be interested in various ways by what may be considered low-class literature and entertainment, particularly if the material is spicy and humorous. However, judging by much of the material one finds on the counters of bookstalls and news agents, I fail to see why it is necessary sometimes for the "i's" to be dotted and the "t's" to be crossed, just about with a bludgeon. For a number of years I have been interested in the cinema and having just heard the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, I dearly wish I had an opportunity to compare notes with him. I used to be a very regular filmgoer, and now, as a family man, I find it increasingly difficult to discover a suitable film show to which I can take my children. There used to be a few cinemas in London which could be relied on to show programmes that were good family entertainment, and it was all the more disappointing to see them all 1377 close down or become places where films with Certificate "X", and more than usual lurid advertisements, were shown.
My concern in the matter of this entertainment is really in another direction, because until September of this year I was an official of the Building Regulations Division of the Greater London Council, and one of my duties was in connection with entertainment licensing. Friends would often ask me whether this meant censorship, and they sometimes seemed just a little disappointed when the reply came that my duties consisted of inspecting places of entertainment in order to make sure that they were safe, both for the public and for those employed there. My warrant card was quite impressive, indicating that I was an official representing the council as licensing authority for places of public entertainment.
My colleagues and I had quite a large area to cover in the boroughs North and West of the Greater London Area, from Barnet all the way round to Hammersmith. When carrying out inspections of cinemas, it was usual to have a short chat with the managers to go over matters that needed attention. In due course the conversation would turn to business and a good eight out of ten managers complained that the present trend of films was gravely endangering the cinema trade. Audiences were not large, except possibly in the late evenings, yet when the main feature was a pleasant comedy, romance, musical or some interesting documentary—in fact, anything to which a family as a whole could go—the place would be packed and once again there would be queues outside. The fact that a film has an "X" certificate does not necessarily mean that it is a lurid sex or horror film; in fact, some are very clever and witty. One film which I should like to discuss—and I hope that the remaining speakers might be able to give me some information about this—is The Devils, which has been most mentioned in this report. Before I say anything more, I will admit right away that I am skating on rather thin ice and am therefore being very careful. One of the remarks which I believe the famous Confucius really did make was that to have one good look at something was a thousand times better than hearsay. But I have not seen that film, and I will tell your Lordships why.
1378 I admit that I was put off by everything I heard about it. In addition to that, there was a bit of almost personal vanity, because I played a part in an amateur stage production of The Devils. It was a slightly shortened version of the original stage play. It was quite a hard job to do, but all of us in the company had a thoroughly interesting time doing it. We all became very interested in the history of that bit of 17th century France, which not many of us knew anything about before. The comments we heard after the performance were very encouraging. The audience seemed to enjoy it very much indeed, and they also seemed to show interest in the historical period and learned something from it. That film seems to have come out as a sort of sensational horror film. It seems to have done well in the West End, but does not seem to have done very well in the so-called Provinces on circuit. I can only suppose that it was too daring to go and see, or that, although it is expensive enough to go to a West End cinema now, people came to London to sec the film, had a good supper out as well and went home feeling that they had had a thoroughly good bit of entertainment and something to talk about.
I certainly agree with the recommendation on page 424 of the report, that the British Board of Film Censors should include representatives of the industry, of local authorities and of members of the public, but certainly not, as the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, feared, a most immense field to be consulted before any film is allowed out. I believe, from the evidence of what I have seen and heard, that unless there is a trend towards better entertainment in the cinema a number of cinema staffs will be increasing the figures of the unemployed. Lastly, I should like to take this opportunity to say that, though we are concerned about the profit that some people may have been making out of trying to force on to the public material which only a small minority really seem to want, there are also some people who are having their livelihood threatened by this trend.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, anyone who has to sit through three debates three nights running in this House, with 1379 no catering facilities, is entering upon what is tantamount to a hunger strike. If I am brief, it is not because I think that the subject is unimportant nor that I do not feel greatly indebted to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. I am among those who believe, or feel or sense that since we last discussed this matter last year there has been some improvement, from the viewpoint of those who would support the right reverend Prelate or my noble friend Lord Longford. This, I gather, is known as a value judgment, though whether it is better or worse for that, I do not know. Had the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, been here, I should have asked him to tell me how it is that one can have a purely quantitative assessment of what must be subjectively, and largely, a matter of values.
One experience which led me to take this less gloomy view of our social trends was a demonstration at which I was invited to speak last year, organised by the National Festival of Light in Trafalgar Square. The Square was absolutely full. I am by now a connoisseur of demonstrations in Trafalgar Square and have spoken at some of the biggest, including that protest against the Suez invasion. I have never been more impressed that at this demonstration, and I was particularly impressed because at least 80 per cent. of those who packed the Square to demonstrate for moral values were young people. After that, I found it quite impossible to believe that there was any threat to the younger generation, that all was lost so far as our younger generation was concerned. Those young people protesting, as I said, for moral values, were happy, hopeful, healthy young people and not at all bigoted, prejudiced or likely to be following the sort of desperate and defeatist line which some people appeared to indicate is that which is to be followed by those who, like myself, admire what has been done by my noble friend Lord Longford.
If it is true that there has been this improvement since last year, if there has been this subtle change of opinion in this matter, if the pornographers are now on the defensive instead of on the advance, as I believe them to be, it has 1380 not happened by chance and has been because of some people who have had the courage to get up and be counted, and I include among those my noble friend Lord Longford. He and his colleagues have caused people to think about this subject. Despite a good deal of sniggering that has gone on, there has been this cool thought for which my noble friend Lord Shackleton rightly asked. I am glad of this chance of thanking my noble friend Lord Longford and those, like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and my noble friend Lord Soper, who took part in that Committee.
My Lords, in a field in which so many have said that there is no conclusive scientific proof, it may be unprofitable to bandy personal opinions, but I must say that I share the surprise of my noble friend Lord Soper, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and others that some should be so ready to accept that there is no correlation between excessive "porn" and positively anti-social behaviour and violence of one kind or another. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, I have read the evidence of police officers and others to the effect that criminals charged with sex offences have very often, if not always, undue quantities of pornographic literature in their possession. I will not give other individual instances that I have come across for I am told by some of those who have spoken to-day that that is an unscientific approach to this matter, but I cannot overlook, for example, the recent case of the so-called Hell's Angels who went out and secured a 15-year-old girl, brought her back to their meeting and raped her. I cannot believe that those individuals, those Hell's Angels, are completely insulated from modern behaviour, from the sort of atmosphere that we are talking about. I do not think this has anything at all to do with Jude The Obscure, Chaucer or the rest of it. The sort of literature which describes, if not actually encourages, the kind of behaviour which was indulged by those young lads is the sort of literature that we need to deal with.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, made what I thought was a quite unnecessary protest about restriction. No one is trying to tell him what he and his children should read. All I 1381 am asking is that my children, or my grandchildren, shall not have forced upon them literature which others think should be read. I am wanting some control of the public environment which ensures that their interests and their tastes are not deliberately cultivated by people who are in this business for profit-making purposes.
My Lords, it is not necessary to say that this evil is worse than other social evils. I agree with the Bishop of Guildford when he said that a condemnation of pornography does not mean approval of, or even unconcern about, other social evils. I agree with my noble friend Lady Gaitskell that the killing of Irish by Irish is probably a greater obscenity. I agree with the author who wrote to The Times complaining about the obscenity of the unused Centre Point. I agree with my noble friend Lord Shackleton when he condemns the evil of poverty. All these things are obscene; but because one attacks one obscenity does not mean in the least that one is unconcerned with the others—and the record of my noble friend Lord Longford, I should have thought, would confirm this. But there is something else about this which I would venture to put to your Lordships. Might it not even be that an attack on one of these obscenities helps us to combat the others? Might it not be that the Western World has seen this outcrop of pornography because we have not set ourselves sufficiently constructive social purposes in other directions? Might it not be that too much effort is going into porn, as a means of amusement for some and profit-making for others, and too little effort is going into curing these other social evils that some of my noble friends have spoken about? My Lords, a greater concentration on the social good and a rejection of extreme self-indulgence could achieve the objectives which both they and I share.
As I said at the beginning, I believe that there is much evidence that the ultrapermissives are now on the defensive. In so far as this is true, it does not mean that we can sit back again. We were told on the occasion of the last debate that efforts were to be made to curb offensive public display, and I ask the noble Viscount whether he can say more as to what is being done in that direction. We were told on the last occasion 1382 that action would be taken to tighten up on the private cine clubs, and I would ask the noble Viscount whether he has anything to report on that front. Several noble Lords have referred to the words of Lord Denning, and to the impossibility of leaving the law of obscenity as it now is even though we may share doubts about the precise formula which the Longford Committee have put forward. My Lords, would a Select Committee, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, be advisable?
§ LORD BESWICK
A Royal Commission or a Select Committee. Would that idea find favour with the Government? I hope that the noble Viscount might be forthcoming there. There is a problem here. No one wants to have the rigid censorship which has been condemned, but everybody says that there are certain elements which should be controlled. There is a real problem, and I suggest that we should get down to it together to see whether we can find the answer. In the meantime, if the present law is to be administered, could the noble Viscount comment on the way jurors are selected in these cases? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester referred to a particular case where, I understand, the judge endorsed the following instructions. He said to the potential jurymen:If any of you hold or have expressed, or belong to any organisation which holds or expresses strong views against publication in any form of explicit sexual matters or practices, then it would be desirable if you did not serve upon this jury".My Lords, what an extraordinary method of selection! That means that an extremist on the libertarian front can serve on such a jury quite properly but those who might belong to the Church of England, like myself, would be held to be unsuitable in these cases. I cannot think that this is the right way to go about it, and I wonder whether the noble Viscount can say what precisely is the position. And, if it is as described her,, then what is being done about it?
There is one other thing to which I shall call attention. My noble friend Lady Lee made reference to the position 1383 in pre-Nazi Germany and my noble friend Lord Shackleton when he opened from this Box at the beginning of the debate quite rightly called attention to the evils a Nazi censorship. When he made this reference I thought of something that was said about Sir Hugh Greene's stewardship at the B.B.C. It was said that when he encouraged that remarkable series which I enjoyed so much "T.W/", he was thinking of those days in pre, Nazi Germany and the kind of anti-Establishment attacks which those political reviews mounted.
Censorship can come in more than one way. Those years in pre-Nazi Germany had their effect. I suggest to my noble friend a different interpretation of events. It was not that the Nazis recruited their supporters from those clubs; it was that those clubs, those reviews and that permissiveness succeeded in sapping the self-confidence of that democratic society. They undermined that society; and then you had a backlash in a big way. The danger here could be that we should get precisely that backlash which would lead to the nonsense about Jude the Obscure to which my noble friend Lord Stow Hill referred. It is because, I believe, that proper self-control and social discipline can keep us away from that course that I so much admire the way in which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, set about this report and that is why I am so grateful to the right reverend Prelate for giving us this opportunity to discuss it.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he can clarify one point about something he said about my speech. He said, as I understood it, that he was not in any way wanting to control what I and my children should read; and that in making that point I was, he implied, producing "a red herring". He then went on to argue, as I understood it, that he wanted to change the law on obscenity and publications and wanted better control over the private showing of films in cinema clubs. These things seem to me to be incompatible. That seems to me to be controlling what I read and what I see.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, I have no wish to control what the noble Lord does in the privacy of his own home. 1384 I do not even wish to control what is shown on private cinema screens. The point about these tine-clubs is that they are not genuinely private and what is sought to control is the proper constitution of what claim to be private cinema clubs.
§ 9.10 p.m.
THE MINISTER OF STATE, HOME OFFICE (VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS)
My Lords, it now falls to me to attempt to reply on behalf of the Government to a massive debate, a varied one, a thoughtful one, and one in which very strong convictions have been expressed, by no means all from the same point of view. I think that that very fact ought to cause the Government to look with very great care on what they propose to do and to make perfectly certain that their action is correct. If I am not wholly mistaken, virtually all the strongly-held views, although they were not so directed, would in fact become directed to the alteration of the kernel of this matter which is the definition of obscenity either in the form proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, or in the form put forward by others such as the Society of Conservative Lawyers in the past. I believe that all these convictions would focus on this if we were in fact debating a Bill rather than the Longford Report this evening. Therefore it behoves me to take careful steps along that road although I shall not shirk from trying to deal with some of these matters when we come to them.
Perhaps I may be forgiven if I do not again use the broad brush that was displayed by my noble friends Lord Eccles and Lord Windlesham on behalf of the Government in April last year; because to-day we have specific recommendations or proposals before us. I believe that on that occasion, with a good deal of brilliance, the background was painted in. Now we can touch on some of the detailed figures and events in the foreground. It also means that I shall be forgiven by three noble Lords if I do not again go into the question of the educational side which my noble friend Lady Young dealt with earlier.
My Lords, to listen to a few of the speeches—and I think that I have here in mind particularly that of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman—one might think 1385 that we were proposing to introduce for the first time a law which brought some control over obscenity. I must remind the House that we have, after all, had for many years a Common Law offence of obscene libel. It was perhaps crystalised in the case of Hicklin that was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and it has since become statutory as a result of the 1959 Act which was then extended mildly in 1964. Therefore, we have already on the Statute Book methods of dealing with obscenity. By "obscenity" I think one knows what one is talking about, as several noble Lords have said, including the noble Viscount, Lord Barrington, who "pinched" the quotation that I wanted to use myself.
Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, I have had the, possibly, somewhat dubious advantage of looking at a great deal of material. Fortunately, not all of it is available in this country, but it might have been available were it not for the vigilance of the Post Office, Customs and Excise and the police. And when I say "looking at" I do not mean only photographs, because in my somewhat limited judgment of this I believe that the written word is possibly even more insidious—although this is a surprising view—than some of the things that you see, even in coloured photographs. My Lords, at one stage I thought that perhaps the answer to this might almost be, if only one could do it, to go back to the Common Law, when really all that the courts were saying in many cases was, "Obscenity is obscenity." But I do not think that we can do that because, wide-ranging though the noble Earl's report is, and the problem that it faces, and the criticisms that it makes, this is really not a new problem and a document that I have here (I do not think I can find it at the moment), the Report of the Select Committee, led up to the Bill which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, was discussing and which was introduced by Mr. Roy Jenkins.
It is very important to remember that in 1958 this Select Committee stated that much of the evidence it received was suppose I have got to face it—one cannot directed to the uncertainty of the Common Law and in that case—I go back to that. They were also con- 1386 cerned about the lack of powers of forfeiture or seizure of obscene material, and they were concerned about the difficulty of fixing the borderline between what was and what was not permissible. Certainly their recommendations, which were in due course translated into the Bill, were intended to bring greater certainty by substituting the new statutory offence even though it did pick up the wording of the Common Law. The Committee certainly envisaged, too, that their recommendations would facilitate the job of the police in suppressing the trade in pornography. But at the same time—and it is this balance that it is so important to remember and which has been brought out so strongly in the differing views put forward this afternoon—they wanted to make sure that there should be no undue interference with the free expression of opinion and the rights of the individual, a point that has been mentioned by several noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, referred to it in the case of authors, and it was referred to by my noble friend Lord Coleraine. I do not know whether he adopted it, but at any rate he raised the point through the mouth of Mr. Mailer. And certainly it was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge. It may be questioned whether these attempts to reconcile or to produce a balance have been as successful as they might have been, but it is absolutely crucial to remember that it was a balance that was sought between two very strongly opposing viewpoints both of which have been strongly expressed again this afternoon.
My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford—he was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick—asked whether we could get round this, possibly by setting up a Royal Commission. I am afraid that I do not think that we could. In the first place, there have been a largish number of investigations both here and also abroad, and whatever one me y think of the United States investigation it was pretty full and produced certain facts. There was a very thorough examination in Denmark and we have a number of other—if I say "lesser" I do not mean less important, but at any rate, not quite so official inquiries of one sort or another. I do not believe that what we want is further information, although I 1387 will come to the matter of research in a moment. It really is a matter of trying to find a solution and this may boil down only to a matter of wording in the case of the central nub of pornography.
My Lords, I think that I ought just to say a word—although I do not believe that I need enter into the ring of this much disputed question—about whether pornography does harm and the statistical truth. I find that my noble friend Lord Eccles dealt with this in the last debate. I am advised that there is very little evidence about the possible effect that pornography may have on the personality, and that it would be difficult, in view of the problem of isolating the significant influences, to undertake meaningful research in this field. There is a distinction to be drawn, I think, between the sort of examples quoted in the noble Earl's report (of which some have been produced this evening) about a single instance of a person who either has, or inflames himself with, pornographic material and then goes out and commits a sexual offence, and finding out whether it may not be that the reason why he has the pornographic material in the first place is also the reason why he is disposed to commit the sexual offence. It is when you get to research of that depth of psychology that you run into the most mammoth problems, not least of finding control groups who are free from the perverse and distorting influences into which you are attempting to research. This is why I say that the absence of evidence is really something that we have to face up to, although there may be individual cases of the sort about which we have heard.
I am also concerned about the lack of any information about the possibility of a causal relationship between behavioural abnormalities and material which deals in a sexual content with the infliction of pain and suffering. This is something that the noble Baroness, Lady Lee, was talking about—sexual sadism. Again, we are very short of causal psychological evidence upon this matter. I am therefore afraid that the references in the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Soper, and of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, about these individual cases do not really help the Government very much along this path.
1388 We find therefore that we have not got the scientific base from which to set forth. But what we have is an existing criminal law, and I suppose that the Government in this have to try and hold the ring with the criminal law between what are conflicting viewpoints. As the noble Viscount, Lord Barrington, and other noble Lords said, the law must attempt to draw the line correctly, and we must not in the process infringe the central liberties, as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. It would be a brave man who would take from this debate a readily apparent solution which would be likely to be agreed by all those who have spoken. When my noble friend Lord Lauderdale asks the Government whether they want a solution, I can only say that we do, certainly in the field of obscenity. I may say that I think there was a certain subtle shift in his argument away from education into the field of obscenity, where it is not necessarily very easy to follow him. But when you come to the small print it is a very different matter altogether.
§ THE EARL OF LAUDERDALE
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way and for his reference. Would he go so far as to say that the Government not only want a solution, but if they can find a solution they are ready to come to Parliament for the powers necessary, irrespective of a measure of unpopularity?
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, I should have thought that that was an acceptable proposition. I am bound to say that I consider the problem of finding the correct form of words singularly more acute than the problem of facing the unpopularity when one does so. If my noble friend could suggest how this should be drafted I should be grateful.
I have been asked a number of specific points, and I begin with a point that was only mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Leicester. It is one of the points in the report, about human exploitation. This is an offence in the draft Bill. I believe, however, that it confuses two issues. First of all, performances in the course of professional acting are dealt with; and then there are other forms of voluntary modelling. In the case of the acting profession I 1389 believe that it would be irresponsible of Government to start creating new criminal offences without the active encouragement of the union concerned, and so far as I know this has not been forthcoming and we have had no representation from Equity or the other unions concerned.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
I said, my Lords, that we have not had any representations from Equity that they require this particular form of protection for those members of their union who might be involved. I believe it would be irresponsible for me to endorse a new criminal offence without that. When it comes to modelling, there may be some cogency in the analogy with prostitution, when it comes to a question of living off immoral earnings, but the analogy is far from perfect. One can think, for instance, of a photograph taken in a way which might turn out unintentionally to be indecent, or used in ways not envisaged at the time the photograph was taken. It would be difficult then to defend putting a photographer, and perhaps even a model, in jeopardy in respect of the actually taking of that photograph because of the subsequent use that was made of it, when there was no original intention that it should be used in that way. Again, I think we are in trouble over the inclusion of the word "indecent" in the proposed definition of the offence. In fact where material is being produced for commercial pornography, the producer will normally be liable for prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act itself for possessing obscene material for gain. If he cannot be identified with material and prosecuted on this ground, then I think it is unlikely that you would be able to get him for exploitation either.
The cinema was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, and my noble friend Lord Gainford. My right honourable friend's predecessor started discussions with the licensing authorities and the British Board of Film Censors, and my present right honourable friend, the Home Secretary, proposes to pursue these. We shall thus have a chance to consider the proposals made in the Report of the noble 1390 Earl's Committee concerning censorship in this country. I do not think, therefore, that I should anticipate that, but it should be borne in mind, I think—and perhaps this is not often enough said, though I was glad to hear Lord Birkett's confirmation of the work of the Board of Film Censors—that material is now being produced (primarily abroad, where it is widely shown in public) which presents the Board with serious problems: and frankly, having seen something of it, I am not surprised. In maintaining the balance that they do, the Board are doing a very difficult job with a great deal of responsibility and skill. It would be surprising if some of their decisions were never questioned anywhere, but so long as the criticisms come equally from both sides, which I believe they do, the Board can feel satisfied about doing a valuable job. Certainly if it were not so, then the expeditions of the family of my noble friend Lord Gainford to the cinema would be considerably more hazardous even than they are now.
As for giving the Board a governmental character, as the noble Lord suggested, I believe that the arguments which prevailed between about 1910 and 1915, when precisely and exactly the same proposition was put forward and was rejected by the then Government, hold good in just the same way to-day. If the Board wishes to reconstitute itself with other private elements, that is a matter for its members, but I would not recommend the insertion of Government members in it.
Cinema clubs were mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, and the noble Lord, Lord Beswick. There are here proposals by the noble Earl's Committee, but my right honourable friend doubts whether the overlap proposed by the Committee between the system of censorship and the law of obscenity, if both are to apply, is really practicable. However, it is indefensible that some exhibitions should be subject to no form of control at all—these are the ones which the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, was talking about—performances which are essentially public in character and which are advertised, but just escape licensing control by being thinly disguised as club performances. My right honourable friend accordingly proposes to require 1391 that all performances promoted for private gain should have to be licensed and that this should be reinforced by other safeguards. He also proposes that the test of obscenity—that is the obscene publications side of it—should be extended to all exhibitions which would still remain not subject to control by the licensing authority in respect of the contents of the films. That is the other gap in the law—not the clubs for gain, but the members' clubs of one sort or another. Legislation will be needed. It will be suitable legislation for a private Member, possibly a Member of this House, and its progress would depend upon the Parliamentary timetable. We have the proposals worked out, and possibly noble Lords might like to consider them.
Before I come on to the main part of the Obscene Publications Act, I wonder whether in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, I could say a word about jurors. I did not truthfully know beforehand about this. The situation as to jurors is usually this: sometimes the judge can make an indication that certain people may be liable to challenge. If what he said in this particular case has been fully reported, it seems possible that some criticism of the sort the noble Lord mentioned might be levied. But I do not know. It certainly would not be any standard form of direction that he gave. In addition to anything the judge may say, both parties have seven peremptory challenges, and after that they can go on challenging jurors on merits for shown reasons. That is a perfectly normal procedure; there is nothing unusual about obscenity trials in this respect.
Now I come to the point about indecent display. If there is one thing on which I can mercifully find agreement in this House this afternoon and this evening, it is that. Treating their speeches either directly or inferentially, the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Leicester, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, the noble Lord, Lord Fletcher, the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, and the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, would all like this issue dealt with. I daresay 1392 that if the others who have spoken were asked, they would like it dealt with too. The Committee's proposals concerning the definition of "obscenity" raised serious difficulties, and here the notion of outrage is as difficult as in any other case. Although the report is based on the consideration of harm done by pornography, which is the basis of the existing law—and this is really the trouble about "outrage "—the proposed new definition shifts the basis away from harm done by pornography on to the basis of a notion of causation of extreme offence or outrage, which might well produce different results and is a mixture of logic. It is for this reason that we find it as difficult in "indecent display" as it is elsewhere in the obscenity laws.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I am very interested in what the noble Viscount is saying. The position in Denmark, I understand, is that there are bylaws which serve to prevent offensive exhibitions or publications. That is one of the main burdens of the complaint, and it does not raise quite the same difficulty of definition of obscenity. I gathered that the Danish experience is being studied, and I hope it will continue to be, because there is a slight tendency to regard the Danish experiment as purely an experiment in permissiveness, which it is not.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, it is not. The situation in Denmark, as I understand it, is that there are municipal by-laws, as the noble Lord said, though I do not think they are necessarily all in the same terms. The whole of the burden of enforcing all the laws of obscenity in every realm has simply fallen on to these municipal bylaws. The police, the local authority, or somebody, have to attempt to deal with every possible problem under them. I do not think that that is the right way to do it. We do not want to have differential by-laws in this country.
But if I may continue we may get somewhere. There are already copious laws on this subject, and anybody who has read the report knows all about the Vagrancy Acts. But we have those under review at the moment by a working party, as part of the general revision of criminal law. We have asked the working party to formulate proposals in advance of the 1393 main conclusions on this particular subject. It has already had several discussions and I understand that a Paper on it will soon be submitted to my right honourable friend. As I think the noble Lord has just indicated, it is of course an easier field than obscenity itself, because the object is not to draw a line or lines below which material is absolutely banned but simply to draw a line below which material must not be openly flaunted; and the threat of prosecution can easily be avoided by simple discretion. It is not altogether free from difficulty and I do not think the noble Earl's formula is quite right, particularly when it deals with distribution; and there is trouble about the "public place"; but this I hope we should be able to get over. But it is I think a field where we are all agreed—certainly my right honourable friend is—that we have the most profitable line for immediate action. The timing again, alas!, must depend upon the Parliamentary timetable. I do not think, however, that it would be a mistake to concentrate on this small area, even if we have for the moment to set aside the wider definition of "obscenity".
I believe there is a good deal in the analogy produced by the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, and my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, with the Street Offences Act. It may not be altogether a desirable thing to do, but at least we can get rid of what is known to be and agreed to be an offence to the public, and of course something which is highly offensive in relation to children. I do not believe (the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, raised this point) that we should here be dealing with something which is in the least unenforceable, because, after all, we have the existing law. It may be it is spotted about; it may be that the penalties are very low; but there have been prosecutions on this question and I think the concept is quite simple and that we should not be falling into the trap of producing something which would bring the law into disrepute altogether. This, therefore, I believe is the most immediate prospect for advance, and I hope we may be able to get on with it.
My Lords, I wonder how much more I ought to say about this matter. It is 1394 very late. We really now come to the whole of the 1959 Act. First of all, I should say one thing about forfeiture. This is a complicated matter. It was introduced really on an official basis in 1959, and it is fairly successful. For instance, the number of items seized by the Metropolitan Police alone amounted to 35,000 in 1969; 71,000 in 1970; 139,000 in 1971, and in the first ten months of this year 900,000 items of pornography. So it has had quite an effect. Of course, we are here dealing with a matter which has been raised in the Court of Appeal in the recent judgment. I do not think it would be right for me to go into this matter, not only for the sub-judice rule but also because we have not even yet got a formal copy of the views, or the judgments, of the noble and learned Lord and his two colleagues; but also beause I believe these things may very largely turn out to have been obiter, not necessary for the judgment. I do not believe it would be a good idea for me to go into this tonight, although the whole of their criticism is obviously something we need to look at. There is certainly no discrepancy between the law for seizure and for doing away with and destroying these goods without necessarily taking them to court and the provisions that were mentioned by the Court of Appeal, the Prosecution of Offences Regulations of 1946. There is in fact a perfectly good answer to this and there is no lack of legality in what has been going on at the moment.
Where we really come to trouble is in the prosecutions under Section 2. The philosophy here is I think fairly simple. One may wish to get rid of large amounts of pornography if one can do so, or other indecent matter—by "pornography" I am going quite wide; not only sexual matters, for sometimes it can be violence and there is no necessary sexual overtone. You may want to do it by way of forfeiture. Equally, what you may want to do is this. You may want to attack the pornographer himself. There may be occasions when you want to get the person who sells it, the person who writes it, the person who distributes it. For these purposes, of course, seizure alone is no good and you must have another criminal offence. The one we have at present is that under Section 2 1395 of the Obscene Publications Act. It is not right, I think, to say that the penalties here are small or insignificant. The penalties on indictment are three years' imprisonment or an unlimited fine, and I cannot think of anything much more severe than an unlimited fine. Magistrates can order a fine, I think, of £100 or six months' imprisonment, which is their usual maximum on summary conviction.
So we are not necessarily lacking in powers here, but there has been a good deal of difficulty in getting the law clarified: for instance, the question of what may be raised under the defence of public good. It is only recently, in the Anderson case, which is the Oz School Kids' issue, that the Court of Appeal has finally pronounced, as I told the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, that one cannot call expert evidence on the question of obscenity and the question of the tendency to deprave and debauch. This is a matter for the jury alone. I think perhaps the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, has not quite grasped this. Perhaps he has not yet had a chance to read this. Certainly the law has moved on a substantial way since the noble Lord, Lord Fletcher, did the research which underlay the legal committee's report. On that, as on one other thing, he was out of date. For instance, he was out of date on the question of the tendency to deprave and corrupt on the basis that the subjects who might reasonably be expected to read pornography, might fox instance, be such dirty old men that they could not be corrupted or depraved. Again, the courts have put this right.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I am sorry to break in, but l think it would be wrong for me to let it be supposed that our sub-committee was out of date. Lord Justice Edmund Davies was a leading member of that subcommittee and he was thoroughly up to date.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, the point is that these things have happened since the report was written. One has to keep up to date with the law. I am not suggesting that it was not correct when it was written, but the law has been clarified since and one has to take account of it when one is seeing whether a matter is as unsatis- 1396 factory as is suggested. At the same time we have the added subtlety that my noble friend Lady Young has mentioned in the whole concept that, particularly if we wish to protect the children, we have built into the wording of the Statute the ability to see whether the matter is tending to deprave and corrupt in respect of the particular audience that is likely to read it. This is a cunning and subtle piece of legal mechanism which has enabled things to be caught and to be dealt with which might very definitely not otherwise have been covered by the law of obscenity. I do not know whether the Little Red Schoolbook would have been caught if only adults were going to read it. I rather doubt it. But it was caught when it was specifically designed (as it clearly was) to be read by schoolchildren. So we have that sort of bringing up to date.
What we have not yet dealt with, and what is a major difficulty and is very much in the minds of those who wrote the noble Earl's report about this defence of public good, is the aversion argument which has been referred to previously. Some have tried to say that an article which is so obscene as to be absolutely repellent can be covered by the defence on the grounds that it is for the public good that it should be read and this will simply put people off ever participating in this sort of thing. The courts have never decided whether this argument really lies there or whether it may not more correctly lie in the test of whether, because it is so foul, it does not after all tend to deprave or debauch at all. If the latter concept is right there is no question of expert evidence, there is no question of the defence of public good being brought in; and if we look at the words of Section 4 I am not at all sure that it is suitable for this argument, anyway, and so you have the matter left to the jury. I am bound to say that having seen some of this material I would not expect juries to have much difficulty in saying that it tended to deprave and corrupt, even if the lawyers for the defence, and it would only be a matter of submission, were to put to them that it was so foul that it could only put people off. I do not believe that the material I have seen would present much difficulty to juries in this regard.
1397 I have already spoken for a considerable time, though this has been a long debate and I have had many points to answer. I will not go into this matter in too much detail and I would not necessarily despair of the existing law. Like other noble Lords, I certainly see major difficulties about the alternative put forward by the noble Earl's Committee. I think that the courts may still make rather more out of this than one may think, listening to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, and I have noted the opinions of other noble Lords in regard to cases on this subject such as the Whyte case. However, I believe that there is more good in it than perhaps we recognise and that at any rate to change that is a major operation.
What I can take away from this debate for the Government is the fact that there is a wide divergence of view about how to attack the central problem of obscenity and that there are two conflicting points of view which must be balanced and which the present law tries at least as best it can to assimilate together. As for the rest, on cinema clubs legislation would be welcomed, and on display—my right honourable friend said at Blackpool we were willing to do this—we are now in a position, backed by the views of your Lordships, to go ahead with the unanimous view that this would be a popular thing to do.
Certainly the debate has been exceedingly helpful to the Government. I am most grateful, whatever may have been the criticisms from other sources, to have had the opportunity to discuss this matter, because we have learned a good deal and have updated ourselves this afternoon. I therefore add my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate, and I think it would be grossly unjust if I did not add my thanks to the noble Earl as well.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, may I ask him to note that he has not mentioned Scotland, though I hardly expected him to do so? Will be write to me about the subject, or would be prefer me to put down a Question at a later date for Written Answer?
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, my knowledge of the criminal law of Scotland is utterly non-existent. It would therefore be rash of me to attempt to answer my noble friend. Per- 1398 haps he will allow me to draw toe matter to the attention of my noble friend Lord Polwarth.
§ 9.48 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LEICESTER
My Lords, most of us who are here now are here only from a sense of duty and there are few rewards for staying so long. But I think your Lordships will agree that we have heard some very good speeches in the latter part of the evening and that there is a certain sense of camaraderie which unites us all at this late hour. I think it would be kind for me to put into just one phrase my thanks to all those who have spoken broadly in support of the proposition that I made and the general outlook of the Longford Report. I must, however, speak a little more fully, though very briefly, about those who have in the main opposed these new proposals. I think at once of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, and others who represent more or less one point of view, though expressed in different ways. Their main points, as I understand them, are that they consider the whole problem to have been exaggerated. In relation to that, I draw their attention to the part of the report which speaks of two economics graduates at Leeds who within one year built up a mail order pornography business amounting, they said, to 25,000 book club members. They did not admit that they were fostering an addiction and there are other details about them. If two people can get a 25,000 circulation going within one year, when one adds all the rest of the promoters together one surely sees that it is not quite such a trifling phenomenon as some people would suggest.
Then, of course, there is the tremendously strong point put in an almost classical way by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, that we have to establish very sure proof of social harm before the liberty of a subject is interfered with in any way. With that I have very great sympathy, but I think that it has to be balanced with a very clear idea of the sort of things that you are going to allow under that very noble description of freedom of the subject and liberty of expression. The noble Lord spoke about the therapeutic value of 1399 pornography for certain people and said that we must be sympathetic about that. But that could never be a final test of behaviour and of what could be allowed because there are some who find it therapeutic to themselves to assault small girls, or in other words to behave in an anti-social way. It is only a very relative element in the weighing up of these things.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, endeavoured to blind the House with brilliance and at one time I thought that he was almost succeeding. But on reflection I think that we shall all agree that his speech had not been very carefully thought out. I shall mention one example alone: he made a great fuss about the word "outrage" and said that it might necessitate proving the possibility of a breach of the peace. He had not even stopped to look to see that what the outrage was about was not people at all but standards, and the whole of that wonderful, brilliant passage about outrage was totally misplaced. The Devils—I am referring to the film—has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Gainford. I think your Lordships will be interested to hear in just a sentence of a letter I received only this morning from a blind man. I do not know him at all but he said to me in this letter:I never thought that I should give thanks to God for being blind, but since my wife has told me what she has seen in the film The Devils I am genuinely grateful that at least I have been spared that.That is just a little indication of the kind of offence that is caused by some of these way-out efforts.
I come now to the comments from the Government Front Bench and, of course, I am very grateful for the careful speeches that have been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. Lady Young presented us with a picture that almost seemed to suggest that all was for the best in the best of all possible worlds, and she expressed it so gracefully that we were almost inclined to believe her. I feel that it would be a mistake to underrate the remaining sense of anxiety, particularly among parents, about the developments of sex education. Nobody is against sex education in that sense, but 1400 we think that it has always to be kept in a broad context and not allowed to exist as a thing by itself, as it were, apart from human relationships. We are grateful, of course, for the promises—if that is not too strong a word to use—about legislation on indecent display and we hope that as time goes by Her Majesty's Government may take a rather more favourable view than the noble Lord was able to take in the matter of the reform of the Obscenity Act. The present Act was defended with great lucidity, as always, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, and it will be for the assistance of the Government to have before them in Hansard all the speeches that have been made to-day, from whatever point of view. I think we must face the fact that there is going to be considerable discussion about the Act itself, particularly after the recent judgments. While I think a Royal Commission would be a mistake, the Government might consider drawing up a Green Paper in which not only their proposals about indecent display and about cinema clubs and other things could be set out, but also some of the remaining unresolved questions in connection with the Obscenity Act 1959.
My Lords, you really can go home very soon, and that you will be very thankful for. I end by saying that in the last resort we have to think what sort of country we want our children to grow up in. I am afraid that there are some noble Lords and Ladies who, when they hear the word "pornography", think that what we are worried about is one or two magazines with a picture of a pretty girl on the front without too many clothes on. That is really not the sort of thing we are talking about at all. I am talking about the kind of cards, that can be easily got, by members of schools and other young people, by answering advertisements, showing pictures of carnal intercourse between girls and animals. These are the kind of things that are going on, and I have spared the House any more vivid descriptions of material of this kind. But I assure your Lordships that we are not talking about trifles. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion, if it is your Lordships' wish.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.