HL Deb 24 March 1976 vol 369 cc642-760

2.55 p.m.

Lord NUGENT of GUILDFORD rose to call attention to the weakness of the law with regard to obscene publications and indecent displays and the need to strengthen the law to make it effective; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in opening this debate I should perhaps explain why it is I who am doing it, and not the natural leader in these matters, the noble Earl, Lord Longford. It is simply a matter of convenience, that my noble friends on the Front Bench were able to give today for this debate, and it fitted in well with the joint delegation which is shortly to be received by the Home Secretary. I should say in explanation that if the mantle of Elijah somewhat envelops Elisha, perspective will be restored later when the true prophet himself speaks.

My Lords, I am opening this debate, conscious of the difficulties of the subject. Most people prefer to ignore it, and past experience of legislation has shown just how difficult it is to get the right balance between freedom of expression on the one hand and a reasonable control of pornography on the other. My justification for troubling your Lordships today is my belief that the existing law is failing, despite the best efforts of the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions. I believe that today there is widespread anxiety among many people, especially among parents with young families, at the great volume of increasingly offensive pornography being produced and publicly displayed. I think that the failure to secure a conviction in the recent case of R. v. Hatiatt has triggered off this growing sense of public alarm. If a court cannot find that the Linda Lovelace book is obscene, then the law really is defective.

The Statute law depends mainly on the 1959 and 1964 Acts. Both Acts declare, in their Long Titles, that their purpose is to strengthen the law with regard to pornography. As the reverse has so clearly happened, to my mind there is an obvious obligation on the Government to take action to implement the wish of Parliament. All of us experienced people here know very well there is nothing new about this pornography problem. Indeed, it has troubled all civilisations throughout the ages. What is new in our time is the dimension. It is hugely expanded by the modern means of communication, and the great strength of the financial interests behind it, so that today, instead of the occasional pornographic book or picture which 50 years ago used to circulate under the counter, modern production today can produce and is producing a flood of material which is appearing on every street corner.

What is also new in our time is the thought that public interest might best be served in this sphere by removing all legal restraints. I feel I should say a word about that later. But our starting point must be that traditionally, all public opinion has considered that pornography is harmful and should be restrained. Certainly that is my belief, and I must put it on the record. I believe pornography has a corrupting effect on the minds receiving it. Probably older people have the strength of mind to resist it, if only by turning away from it; but young people, especially teenagers, are very vulnerable.

In my judgment, pornographic ideas are dangerous because they lodge in the mind. They lodge like the eggs of an icnumen fly, which hatch out, become living things and feed on the guts of the victim. The ideas of the pornographer do the same thing: they lodge in the mind, they spawn into prurient imagery which feeds off the mind of the victim and consumes all the decent feelings there. This creates an appetite for ever more extreme forms of pornography. It takes a great effort of will to rid the mind of this seductive stuff—and seductive it is once planted. A Christian would say that he is helped by an act of grace. There is the modest commercial for the right reverend Prelate sitting opposite.

I turn now to the argument of the removal of all legal restraints. I suggest that this must be considered, as I have said, in the perspective of history: that all mankind up till now has regarded pornography as dangerous and needing control—that is to say, potentially polluting. Today, when great efforts are made by all of us to protect our environment against physical pollution, it really would be inconsistent if we took no notice of this threat to pollute the moral life of the nation. I suggest that, as with any other potentially dangerous substance, there should be no legal relaxation until there is convincing evidence that it is safe. I am aware, as I am sure all noble Lords are, that in some countries—and I suppose Denmark is perhaps the leader in this—experiments are being made where they have removed all legal restraints. But the reports that I hear—no doubt we shall hear of others in the debate—are conflicting, and I suggest that the right course is to watch what happens in the corning years. It is a beguiling suggestion that this would be the easiest way to deal with it; it would save everybody a lot of trouble. But it would be some years before we can safely reach the conclusion that all legal restraint could be removed. I suggest that in the meantime we should try to make our law here more effective, and I suggest that there are two main aspects that need attention.

First, there is the definition of "obscenity", as set out in the 1959 Act; and, secondly, there is the control of films and displays. We are fortunate that in the debate this afternoon my noble friend Lord Carr of Hadley will be speaking; indeed, he will be making his maiden speech. Perhaps these are rather rough waters for a maiden voyage, but I am sure he will safely negotiate them. He was the Home Secretary who introduced the 1973 Bill on Cinematograph and Indecent Displays, and I regret that noble Lords and the present Government did not continue with it. I see also that a Law Commission Report which came out yesterday had some comment to make in this field, too. So we shall hear some helpful advice from my noble friend in this particular field of how the law might go.

I will turn now to say a word about the weakness of the 1959 Act, as I see it. There the definition of "obscene" in Section 1(1) is to define obscenity as a tendency to deprave and corrupt persons. That sounds common sense, but in the courts it has been a nebulous and difficult concept to prove. Therefore, I suggest that should be dropped and that primarily the Act should rely on the general meaning of the word "obscene"; that is to say, that obscenity would be left as a matter for the jury to decide. For myself I would be content to rest on that.

It has been suggested, and I think it is worth considering, that to that offence should be added the offence of what is grossly offensive to contemporary standards of decency. I believe that means something specific in the minds of everybody. They may have different judgments about what it is, but I believe that would be a helpful second definition in the Act. I should mention in passing that there is an alternative approach, which I believe the police prefer, of specifying in a Schedule the various matters which are to be regarded as obscene. This has its attractions, but on the whole they do not appeal to me. I shall be interested to hear what others think.

The second weakness of the Act of 1959 is the defence of public good given in Section 4. This, I imagine, was put in in order to protect works of art, literature and science, and in so far as that intention was concerned personally I would go along with it. But, unfortunately, at the end of the section on public good "other objects of general concern" is added; in other words, the section has opened the defence to anything which can be pleaded as public good, and the section allows for expert witnesses to be called to make out a case. So what has happened here is that defence lawyers have skilfully used Section 4 on the defence of public good, to establish that the most extreme forms of pornography, like the Linda Lovelace book, can confer a public good, because in the judgment of expert psychiatrists and doctors who gave evidence, this material has a therapeutic value for patients suffering from sexual disorders.

My view of this is that these experts, in so far as their evidence is valid, are experts in the abnormal, and their evidence does not have a general application. It would be a strange form of medical practice which prescribed to the whole community a special and potentially dangerous treatment or drug suitable for a sick patient. That is what this amounts to. I am interested to see that the Law Commission have also picked up this point and have recommended that the defence of public good should be limited to literature, art and science. In my view, too, that is how it should be. I hope that would be the second main amendment to the law.

My Lords, may I say in conclusion that this problem seems to be in the context of the general conservation of our national life. In the past 30 years I have been fortunate enough to play a part in the prevention of pollution in the environment, particularly of our rivers, and have had the satisfaction of seeing some measure of progress in that field, especially in recent years when public opinion has become more aware of it. So I now express the hope that there might be a similar measure of success in the next 30 years—most of which I shall not see—in checking the pollution of the mind of the nation, which I see threatened here. That will be much easier in cash, because in the field of rivers it costs thousands of millions of pounds to achieve, although it is much more difficult in the field of definition of what constitutes pollution. Definition of pollution in this field depends on an act of moral judgment which must express the collective feelings of our people, through Parliament, and ultimately in legislation to be implemented through the courts.

I suppose it is right to ask of me whether I think that our people have the moral strength of mind to make such a judgment. Well, I certainly do. I have a great admiration for Alexander Solzhenitsyn, but I do not agree that we in the West—and in this country particularly—are completely decadent. In a free society like ours weaknesses are lived openly, unlike in the Soviet Union to which he is accustomed, where there is an official facade which conceals a great many frailties. Maybe we do have too much selfish indulgence here; that is perhaps only human. But my belief is that the average Englishman is still strong in the qualities which made us great: integrity and decency.

I believe that our countrymen will follow a firm lead from the top, from Her Majesty's Government, and that a move in this field to check the pollution of our family life and the national life would make a very useful contribution. I hope that we shall hear from the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, today, and from the Home Secretary when he receives us in a few days' time, that they are willing to give such a lead. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.11 p.m.


My Lords, I am happy to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, alike upon the choice of the debate for this afternoon and the reasonable and quiet efficiency with which he has introduced a subject which must be of great importance and demands radical action. Let me follow his good example and immediately nail my own ecclesiastical colours to a mast—the mast of a ship in which I think the officers and crew sitting immediately in front of me are in complete agreement. There is a specific and deplorable meaning to the adjectives obscene and indecent, in that they are particular in the sense that they have an articulate relationship to a particular practice, of which pornography is the noun. But there has been such a great tendency towards the increase of such obscene and indecent publications that this in itself is to be deplored, and every right and proper method should be used towards a diminution of what is a manifest evil by any standards of civilisation, and not least by the standards of the Christian faith, which I seek to hold.

If we link this particular moral problem with the law, then I think it will not be inadvisable if, in the first beginnings of this debate, certain of the fundamental issues which lie behind the application, or non-application, of the law should receive consideration. Therefore, I shall presume to speak in the first instance of one of the basic weaknesses of the law as I see it, a weakness which is all the more to be seen when the interpretation of pornography is left to juries.

We, in the Christian Church, have a not too enviable record. I have listened from time to time to various criticisms of Christianity, and one of the most trenchant of them, which is not as frequently used as I feared it might be, is that there is little evidence in the original documents, if you like to think of them as the New Testament records, of the teaching of our Lord as to what in fact is decent and what is indecent in the sexual field. Therefore, a great deal of the interpretation of what is pornographic and what is morally decent, what is sexually acceptable, comes to us not directly from that original teaching but from an interpretation, in order to fill the gap, by great leaders of the Christian faith, such as St. Paul who, if you will remember, said that it is better to marry than to burn (he was referring, of course, to desire and not to faggots) but his inference was that it would be better, on the whole, to do neither. This history quickly of Christian reaction officially to the role of sex was summed up when Augustine regarded the whole thing as a massa damnata, which has a robust Latin sound to it which is not essentially diminished if you think of sex, as he did, as a damned or condemned lump.

It is perfectly true, and quickly ought to be added, that from time to time the Christian Church has modified this extreme view, but inasmuch as the original canon laws were couched in terms which, in the main, reflected the attitude of celibate clergy, it is not surprising that their attitude was one of great care not only to specify the dangers but also to regard the penalties as equally obligatory. Their varieties of religious experience were obviously small compared with those which are so loudly advertised today. But one of their attitudes which still persists, and which must, I think, corrode the minds many times of jurors today, is that what is unusual can be regarded as peculiar; what is peculiar can be regarded as unnatural; what is unnatural can be regarded as sinful; and what is sinful ought to be regarded as criminal, in this descensus averno which in each stage is arbitrary and un-Christian. But it does reflect the attitude of a great many people today who believe that sexual behaviour and sexual concerns are possibly right in private but for public exhibition are entirely wrong. Until we can persuade those who will be required to implement such legislation as we think is right and proper, it will be necessary to clear away this undergrowth of misapprehension and misunderstanding in order to represent sex, and particularly the various and delightful ways of sexual enjoyment, as part of the conferment of God upon his creatures to be taken with responsibility.

This leads me to the second matter. If this is the weakness, or part of the weakness of the law—and I will specify other weaknesses later on—the strength of any law consists in its reputability in the minds and hearts of the majority of people who are expected to respect it. It is because there is such a widespread lack of intelligent appreciation of what are the evils of pornography that I would venture to delay your Lordships for a little to describe what I have seen, and, as I think, would be all the better with a wider publicity in the general mind.

I do not know very much about corruption, or the specific results of pornographic titillation. What I do know is that the sex drive is one of the most powerful, and that if it is over-exercised, or if the invitation to it, as the noble Lord quite properly said, is over-emphasised, then there is the likelihood that there will be a basic imbalance in the background and life of those who are constantly bombarded with sexual invitation. It is the proliferation of such sexual invitation which I think is one of the most dangerous of all the imbalances to which young people in particular are exposed today.

In the second place, I believe that the trivialisation of sex is probably a major reason for this situation, and it should attract the opposition of every civilised person. Unless sex is regarded with a sense of responsibility and not as innocuous as blowing your nose, washing your face, or laughing, or taking part in any of the other immediate exercises in which humanity is able to indulge, unless sexual practices are set within a framework which regards them with a seriousness which such a powerful drive demands, then it is, on the whole, deleterious and its effects must be dangerous.

I would add one third reason why I am convinced that pornography has a major influence upon what decadence we can see in the community today. There is an intimate and quite well recognised relationship between sexual frivolity and violence. I have listened to a great many people talking about the incidence of violence today, the way to correct it, and where it springs from, and so on. Any psychologist worth his salt is well aware of the fact that there are elements of this intimate relationship within pornography as a presentation of sexual activity, let alone sexual activity itself. The aggressiveness and the selfishness, and the actual violence of sexual behaviour, has only to be seen in many of the illustrations on the Underground, to warrant the kind of comment that I have tried to make.

With the caution of the unhappy background of a totalitarian view with regard to sex in which the Church, not able to pronounce with any great authority on some of the more social and economic matters has strained itself to the utmost to express dogmatically a point of view which has seeped into the minds of all kinds of people who no longer attend Church services, I would think that there is a paramount case for strengthening the law in two ways: by the recognition, in the first place, that the law as it stands carries, as a kind of residuary legatee, ideas about sex which are basically unchristian as well as utterly unassimilable in a modern society. To strengthen the law demands at the same time that we should acquaint those who are to make their response to any such legislation with the basic structure of the argument not to spend too much time talking of corruption, which is a very vague word, but to talk of the imbalance of the trivialisation of sex, of its intimate relationship with violence, and, therefrom, to induce the result which, I believe, most reasonable people would make that we cannot afford to treat this profoundly important drive in a frivolous manner.

The question which remains is this: to what extent will legislation be available and be effective? I appreciate that one cannot make people good by Act of Parliament, though I am not so sure that the Chinese would agree with that. However, I think there is a large realm in which one can not only make it more difficult for them to be bad but one can create a climate in which they will find it the easier and the more acceptable to try to be good. If we in the Church have from time to time emphasised all too greatly the purely personal obligations of the Christian faith, here is an opportunity to recognise that that Christian faith and, indeed, that civilised society depends almost as much, if not quite as much, on the surrounding environment, for those who breathe a clean climate are likely themselves to be clean.

I believe that the noble Lord is entirely right in endeavouring to transfer the kind of definition away from the tendency to corrupt and to leave it very largely, as I saw in an article or letter in the daily Press the other day, to an intelligent response on the part of 12 good men and true who will be aware of what is the basic connotation of pornography and will be ready to regard it as a moral affront to the kind of society which we desire. I believe that is so. I will not trespass further on the time of the House, except to say—as, I am sure, noble Lords will allow a Minister of the Gospel to say—that I believe that nothing in this world can ever be fully expressed and justified until it is seen Sacramentally. I am not asking at this moment for any rigid code of sexual morals. There is wide divergence as to what love can do in the purification of many irregular alliances. I am concerned to say that unless the idea of sex is linked to the ultimate purpose of man, that idea will go a begging and we shall be the worse. It is for that reason that I heartily commend the noble Lord for what he has said and hope that there will be a fruitful outcome of his demands.


My Lords, has the noble Lord considered the possibility that crude pornography can be violently anti-erotic? I visited a play called "Oh! Calcutta!" the other day and on the way out there was behind me a nice middle aged couple. He turned to his wife, touched her on the shoulder and said, "Well, my dear. I am afraid that's the end of sex for us for at least a year." That does happen sometimes; crude pornography does not stimulate eroticism.


My Lords, speaking as one who is relatively the same age as the noble Lord, it would not surprise me. Most of my ideas about pornography are now retrogressive if not, I was going to say, almost of the past. However, I would think that whatever may be true of middle-aged couples paying the occasional visit to "Oh! Calcutta!" the general impact on youngsters travelling on tube trains is that they will be considerably disenfranchised in their true and proper vocations by a proliferation of sex and the crude pornography which has increased, as some of your Lordships will know, on the posters.

3.26 p.m.

Viscount NORWICH

My Lords, I should preface my remarks by a brief, if potential, apology; at about seven o'clock this evening I shall be forced to leave the House. I hope that I shall be able to stay till the end of the debate—certainly I shall be here until very near the end of it—but if by chance I fail to be here at the closing stages, I hope that your Lordships will forgive me. I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for raising this matter today. I am grateful particularly in that it allows me to get a number of views off my chest. I yield to no one in my respect and admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Soper, who has spoken far more articulately, cogently and logically and with far greater authority than I could ever hope to do. Yet despite that, I am afraid that I find myself in the unfortunate position of having, with great humility and respect, to take issue with both of them.

In considering this matter, we really must be rather more realistic than we have been to date. In the immortal words of Miss Marilyn Monroe 15 years ago, "Sex is here to stay" and, with sex, here also to stay are its concomitants, of which there are many, but I suppose the two principal ones are prostitution on the one hand and pornography on the other. It has always seemed to me that we in this country have been remarkably enlightened in regard to prostitution in that we have never actually made it in itself an offence. Loitering, soliciting and things of that sort have been an offence but we have been content, sensibly and rationally in my view, to accept that it exists but to keep it within decent and reasonable bounds because we know it is there and that we should be foolish if we tried to brush it under the carpet and pretend it was not. I only hope that we shall be equally sensible in relation to pornography because pornography is here, it cannot be done away with and we cannot legislate it away, however hard we try. What I hope we can do—I shall come to this later—is once again to try to keep it within reasonable, moderate and decent bounds, if that is not a contradiction in terms. More than that we cannot hope to do.

If we try to go too far and try to legislate it away completely, what shall we succeed in doing? We shall sweep it under the carpet and create a black market in pornography. Those who want it and, I say in all sincerity, those who need it, will, I hope, continue to know where they can find it and will continue to go and get it but they will be forced to pay greatly inflated prices for it, the pornographers will grow richer and richer and the law will be brought into disrepute. I hope that we have seen this happening enough. Nobody could have seen it better than in the 1920s in America in the days of prohibition. That succeeded in only one thing, which was to produce enormous fortunes for the bootleggers and the proprietors of speak-easies. I am told that in the very few States in America—I believe there are two—and certain other countries in the world where prohibition continues to this day it is kept in force largely by the bootlegging lobby, who are reluctant to see a superb source of income and profit disappear.

Any law that cannot be enforced is, by definition, a had law. It brings not only that particular law but the whole concept of law into disrepute. It makes people less respectful of the rule of law than they were before. The law is something which must be respected, and it is very important not to allow it to be unnecessarily abused and disregarded. This point is made even more serious and urgent in the case of pornography by the fact that there is a very considerable and reputable body of opinion which believes that, in certain cases, pornography is not only not harmful but is necessary. It is perfectly true to say that this may only apply to those who are already abnormal, but I suggest that, in this particular field, there are a very great number of abnormal people—far more than any of us know. The sexual drive stems from within ourselves. It is not like alcohol—an external force—but is there within all of us. Far more of us may, for all we know, be abnormal than is apparent. We ourselves-I myself and many of your Lordships—may, possibly unknowingly, be abnormal in these respects and I believe that it is not true to say that the abnormal must, by definition, be very few, and that for that reason we need not bother about them in framing laws. I believe that there are a great many abnormal people who may be helped by pornography.

I feel it is interesting and significant to remember that, in the recent case of the prosecution of the book Inside Linda Lovelace—a case which, so far as I could make out, succeeded in doing nothing but immeasurably enriching both the publisher and the authoress—it was necessary for those who wished to prosecute to go all the way to Australia to find a psychiatrist who was willing to come to this country and stick his neck out to the point of saying that pornography was in all respects inevitably and always harmful. I do not believe that it is and, even if it is—

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Viscount has his facts wrong on that point, but it does not affect his main argument.

Viscount NORWICH

My Lords, so long as that is the case, perhaps I may continue. I believe that the situation is such that there is a reasonable element of doubt. That in itself will encourage those who wish to break the law to feel that they are not doing anything wrong in doing so.

So much for the rights and wrongs. Next, there is the problem, which has already been touched on this afternoon, of defining the meaning of obscenity. It is more than a problem; it is an impossibility. We have already heard we already know and do not need reminding—that the phrase, "a tendency to deprave or corrupt" is meaningless and futile. It has failed again and again. I do not feel that it cuts any ice to say that there was, six months ago, the case of a man who committed some hideously bestial crime—I do not remember what it was but that does not really matter very much—who said that he had been led to it by the fact that he had been to see the film "The Exorcist". He said that it had excited him to such a pitch of irrational lust that he did not know what he was doing. Nor does it seem pertinent to refer to the case which, I believe, was mentioned in the report on pornography by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, of a man who, late at night, raped a woman whom he had never met and said that he had been reading pornographic literature or looking at pornographic photographs for two hours beforehand and that it had stirred him to such a pitch of passion that he was no longer responsible for his actions.

These seem to me to be perfectly natural cases of people who were in trouble and ashamed of themselves and who, very understandably and naturally, wished to transfer a small portion of the blame to something else. Even if what they claimed was true—and I am not sure that it was—how do we know how many other cases there are of potential rapists and beaters-up who have been able, through the reading of pornographic literature or through looking at pornographic pictures, to get rid of their tensions in this way and who have not gone out and beaten up or raped some innocent person on Wimbledon Common in the middle of the night? It is impossible to say how many there are and, without such statistics, I do not feel that one or two isolated examples of the other kind mean anything at all.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, suggested in his report that we should change the definition of pornography and should decide that obscenity meant anything which had in its entirety the effect of outraging contemporary standards of decency and humanity, as accepted by the public at large. That sounds all right, except that we have to think about whether the public at large is very easily outraged. I do not believe it is. We are here this afternoon bewailing, deploring and worrying about the fact that there has been an enormous spread—an explosion—of pornography up and down the country, right, left and centre. I suggest that pornography would not be exploding in all directions if there were no public for it. Four years ago, when we were debating the same subject, the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, pointed out that "Oh! Calcutta" was already in its second year, was playing eight performances a week to roughly 1,000 people at a time and that it had already been seen by something like 50,000 people. In fact, the mathematics of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, were slightly wrong but the principle was right. I checked in the newspaper yesterday, and "Oh! Calcutta!" is now, to quote The Times, "in its sixth triumphant year". The Duchess Theatre, where it is now playing, seats 499 people, so that, by any standard of calculation, the piece must have been seen by over a quarter of a million of the British public. The British public is not outraged. The British public has not protested. There have been no riots inside or outside the theatre. If we are worrying about the effect on the British public, its only complaint about "Oh! Calcutta!" which I have ever heard is that it is terribly disappointing and exceptionally dreary—an opinion with which I am totally in agreement, having seen it myself. I defer once more to the noble Earl.


My Lords, may I put a question to the noble Viscount? If bullfighting were introduced into this country, does he not believe that it would be very easy to fill Wembley time and again?

Viscount NORWICH

My Lords, I believe that that may very well be the case, but if we could stick to pornography this afternoon I believe that we should do so. Bullfighting is a large and difficult subject, and I feel that we have more than enough on our plates this afternoon-without starting on bullfighting. I shall be delighted to speak on bullfighting whenever the noble Earl would like me to do so, except possibly this afternoon.

I have suggested that it is impossible to legislate successfully against pornography. It has also been pointed out that it is virtually impossible to define because one man's pornography is another man's art. Yesterday's obscenity is tomorrow's A Level set book. What can one do? Perhaps all this is academic. Even if we could successfully legislate against and, indeed, define pornography, should we do so? I believe that we should not. I believe that every man has the right to read what he wants in the privacy of his own home. I deeply resent being told what is good for me so long as there is no danger of my corrupting the public or children and so long as I do not cause a public scandal—as long as I do not frighten the horses!

I believe that we must differentiate very carefully between crime, felony, on the one hand, and sin on the other hand. I speak with humility. I cannot, like the noble Lord, Lord Soper, speak with authority on moral subjects and sin, but I most earnestly believe that it is no function of the legislation of any Government to lay down the law about matters which should be private between a man and his own conscience.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there is a regular flow of unsolicited pornographic literature passing through our postal services and that that must be inspired by a desire for profit?

Viscount NORWICH

My Lords, I am coming to that point. None the less we must differentiate between crime and sin. Crime is a matter which affects the public. It involves offences against the public; cases against which the public should be protected. This is the proper field of legislation. Matters which exist, or should exist, between a man and his conscience are not. What I do in private is my own affair. What I do in public, in so far as it affects any other innocent members of the public, who are adult, and who do not wish to be involved in such activities, is a matter for legislation.

Here—at last—I come to the point where I am entirely in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and I believe that something could, and should, be done. Unfortunately pornography, obscenity—whatever one wishes to call it—is no longer entirely a private matter. It has now exploded to the point where we have it all around us all the time, and we cannot escape. It is corrupting the atmosphere. I use the word "corrupting" with a slight feeling that it should be in inverted commas, because it is very hard to decide on a degree of corruption, or even to establish whether corruption exists. We may not know very clearly whether pornography is deeply harmful. We may not know how much harm it really does. But one thing we can all agree upon is that it is extremely ugly, and ugliness is something which the public has a right to be protected from. I believe that we could easily strengthen—

The Lord Bishop of LEICESTER

My Lords, the noble Viscount will not forget that he said that one man's pornography was another man's art.

Viscount NORWICH

I have not forgotten that, my Lords. Even if we are to try to control the amount of public pornography on hoardings, in advertisements, in films, in publicity, on the sides of buses, or alongside the escalators on the Underground, we shall have a hard time. Nevertheless, in this particular case it may be worth doing; even if occasionally we are deprived of perfectly innocent pictures of the Rokeby Venus advertising the National Gallery if, in return, we may also be spared the pictures of the star of the Whitehall Theatre, whose admittedly magnificent frontal development goes half way across Northumberland Avenue. That would seem to me to be a small price to pay.

It may be difficult to draw the line, but in this particular case let us draw the line at a slightly more rigid level. It does not matter; no one will actually complain that he cannot see Miss Linda Lovelace topless, or whatever it is, on a hoarding in Shaftesbury Avenue. What people will justifiably complain about is being told that they may not read a book which they want to read because other people, who think that they know better, regard it as pornographic.

To wind up, it seems to me that pornography is very like smoking, but not quite so harmful. Those who wish to do it should be allowed to do it, provided that they do it in private and do not "louse up" the atmosphere for everybody else. Let them. It is probably bad for their health. But it is their health, so let them mug it up if they wish. But please, please, do not let them also spoil our enjoyment. I resent having my atmosphere spoiled, whether it is by tobacco smoke from other people's half extinguished cigarettes, or whether it is by publicity for films, underwear, or whatever, displayed outside cinemas or alongside the escalators. Let all of us be allowed to breathe the free air in the outside world through which we walk every day. Let us, in our own homes, be allowed to do what we like.

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, it is a great honour to address your Lordships' House for the first time. I must confess that I feel slightly uncomfortable doing so from this apparently exalted position at the Dispatch Box, and I might feel somewhat happier if I were on the Back Bench, where I was sitting the last time I made a maiden speech in this Chamber. This is not the first time I have spoken here, although it is the first time that I have addressed your Lordships. When, a long time ago, I was first elected to Parliament, your Lordships were sitting elsewhere and your proper Chamber had been taken over by the other place. It was from almost exactly where the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, is now sitting that 26 years ago, all but two weeks, I made my maiden speech to the other place. I still have here those terrible notes, and as I grip them again I can feel my clammy hand around them, my shaking knees, and my dry throat. I never dreamt that I would make another maiden speech addressing your Lordships' House.

At least, I am not quite as terrified today, and I hope that your Lordships do not take that remark as any lack of respect for the terror which you ought to instil into a new Member. I have less terror, partly no doubt because of 25 years' experience of being fired in the heat of debate elsewhere, but mainly because in the two weeks in which I have had the honour to be a Member of your Lordships' House I have been even more impressed than I expected to be by your courtesy, tolerance and friendliness. If it is your Lordships' practice to give to a maiden speaker more than your normal standard of tolerance, patience and kindness, I suspect that I may feel that I have been transferred not just to another place, but to the other world, perhaps having got in while Saint Peter was looking the other way.

My Lords, this is a very difficult and and very important subject which arouses strong feelings. Fortunately, on the whole, they are not Party political feelings. But the feelings are strong enough to make it a little difficult to maintain the proper non-controversial nature appropriate to a maiden speech. All I can do is to try my best to express my own views in a positive way, rather than argue against views held by other people. It is certainly not at all difficult, within the proper non-controversial context, to thank and congratulate my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford for bringing forward this subject for debate today, and to say that I am sure that in doing so he is reflecting both the concern of a large and, as I believe, increasing number of people and a growing desire for Parliament to strengthen our legislation in this field.

It is also perfectly easy for me to thank the noble Lord, Lord Soper, for his contribution, and for pointing out the limitations of the law, as well as drawing attention both to some of the basic evils in pornography and to the fact that without a more profound and personal approach and leadership in moral behaviour the law itself is certainly not likely to be very effective. I should be the first to say that it can be no more than a supportive framework.

I must confess that it is somewhat more difficult for me to refer to the speech of the noble Viscount while at the same time maintaining the degree of non-controversiality that I should wish. I believe that he made a valuable point in stressing the danger of trying to over-legislate. But perhaps he will forgive me for at least saying on this occasion—although on some other occasion I might go further—that it seemed to me that some of his arguments might lead in the direction of under-legislating, or perhaps even not legislating at all. There I would not find it possible to agree, because I agree strongly with my noble friend who moved this Motion that the law is necessary and it needs strengthening.

As your Lordships may know, when I was Home Secretary I introduced a Bill in another place to deal with one aspect; namely, the aspect, essentially, of indecent public display. That Bill obtained an unopposed Second Reading in another place and completed its Committee stage without undue controversy. It was then overtaken by the General Election of two years ago, and I must say gently to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, that I am rather disappointed that he and his right honourable friend the present Home Secretary have not seen fit to reintroduce that Bill, or at least something like it. I must also say that I now believe strongly, in a way that I did not three years ago, that it is also now necessary to amend the law relating to obscene publications.

My Lords, most of us, thinking as we do, on the sort of lines I have just been indicating, do so, I think, by our instinctive judgment of what seems right and wrong and of what we feel more people are thinking and wanting, and by applying our common sense and experience to what we see happening all around us. This is sound enough, and it is very important that these voices, our voices here, should be raised in Parliament. But I think that if Parliament is to legislate on such a delicate and difficult subject, and above all if the Government of the day, whatever their Party may be, are to give the lead or at least the support without which an attempt to legislate is unlikely to be successful, then it is necessary for us to try to justify what we believe is needed more rationally, in terms of basic principles of public policy and the proper role of the State in a democratic society.

I believe that there are at least two such basic guiding principles by which support for stronger legislation can be argued. The first of these basic principles that I have in my mind is the principle of freedom itself. Of course, much of what we object to is, I recognise, although I think paradoxically, defended in the name of freedom and of personal liberation; but this seems to me largely (not entirely, but to a large extent) a spurious claim, because it confuses liberty with licence and ignores the undoubted fact that the motive for most of what is done to which we object is pure commercial exploitation. Freedom means, does it not?, the right to do one's own thing—but within limits; only to the point where doing one's own thing begins to stop other people from doing theirs. Freedom for a whole community, in other words, depends on consideration and respect for other people's interests and feelings; and this can be achieved only when our own natural and sometimes erring and weak instinct for self-discipline is guided, and in the last resort reinforced, by a framework of rules and standards. At the intimate level of the family, of course, these rules are informal and unwritten; but at the national level, for the whole of society, these rules have to be formal and are, of course, what are enshrined in the law. It is the law, and in the last resort only the law, which protects each one of us from other people's excesses, and other people from ours. In my opinion the present law relating to pornography is patently failing in this fundamental function, and that is the basic justification for seeking to strengthen it.

I really do not think one has to be a prude to feel that many of the displays and advertisements which strike our eyes, whether or not we like it—no longer in just a few relatively limited areas of big cities, but increasingly wherever we go—are anything but an offence to ordinary decency and to the standards and feelings of the majority of people, particularly, perhaps, of parents bringing up children. It is a form of pollution; it is a serious erosion of the reticence and the quality and standards of everyday life. This sort of display does not liberate anyone: rather it serves to enslave—and, above all, to enslave women. This is not freedom: it is a commercial assault on the freedom of the majority of people. This is the basic case, I submit, for up-to-date and enforceable legislation to control indecent public display, such as I put forward in another place when I was Home Secretary. That is not a case for censorship of what people can deliberately choose to read and to see: it is a case for protecting people from being forced, without choice, to read and see what is seriously offensive to them—and that case is, I believe, an unanswerable one.

That, my Lords, brings me to the second and much more difficult guiding principle of public policy; namely, the role of the State in laying down basic standards of right and wrong for what individual people can lawfully acquire, see, read and do, even in private. Here we are talking not about defending people's freedom by protecting them from the excesses of others, and from being forcibly exposed to what they do not wish to be exposed to, but about restricting what individual people are free to do by deliberate choice, and even in private, when they are apparently not interfering with or injuring other people in any way. This is a much more serious and, I would agree with the noble Viscount, a much more debatable matter, however our judgment finally comes down. Some people, of course, say that the State has no right at all to impose such restrictions on what individuals choose to do in private; but this has never been the accepted view in Britain, despite our long and very strong tradition for personal freedom. Nor, in my view, should it ever become the accepted view in Britain. But we must, I believe, recognise that restrictions on personal choice and purely private action ought to be much more limited and narrow than what it is right to impose on public display, where the object, as I have already said, is mainly to protect the majority of people against involuntary exposure to material which they believe is offensive and dangerous.

This is why the laws dealing with indecent public display and obscenity, as we now call it, must be dealt with separately and should not, in my view, be mixed up together. In my view they both now need dealing with, and dealing with as a matter of urgency; but let me emphasise that the need, as I now see it, for new law to deal with obscene publications is not because of a need which I perceive to inject any new principle of restriction. It is required—my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford brought this out only—because the present law is failing to fulfil its own declared objective. The Long Title to the 1959 Obscene Publications Act, as my noble friend reminded us, states that its purpose is: … to provide for the protection of literature; and to strengthen the law concerning pornography". I believe that recent cases make it clear beyond any reasonable doubt that the law is now failing to achieve both these declared purposes, and so I repeat that it is not to introduce some new principle of restriction but to make the declared purpose of the law effective that I, at least, ask for it to be reformed.

How are we to do this? Certainly the present law on obscenity will need to be amended in relation to the definition, although there are various ways to deal with that, as my noble friend made clear in his opening speech. Also, as he made clear, it will certainly need amending in respect of the present definition of the defence of the public good, because the way in which the public good defence can succeed on the grounds that pornography has some therapeutic value in certain cases seems to me to be dangerous nonsense. It really is like saying that because some patients can benefit from, and indeed need to have, the prescription of a dangerous drug, that drug should be on sale without restriction to everybody. I believe that the present definition of "defence of the public good" will have to be changed, but the nature of the necessary amendments need very full study because they are, as has already been said in this debate, very complicated and difficult. I should be trespassing too much on the time of the House if I were to embark on a description of the various detailed possibilities.

So, my Lords, may I sum up. In making the case for strengthening our legislation in this field, I have sought to depend on two basic principles of public policy. There are many other important supporting arguments such as those we have already heard in speeches in the debate so far, such as those included in The Times leader of 30th January and a further article in The Times on 5th February; but I have depended on those two basic principles. My conclusion is that we should agree strongly with the main proposal in this Motion, that the law in this field is too weak and needs to be strengthened; and, secondly, I believe that we should say to the Government that the first step we ask for ought to be the re-introduction of the Cinematograph and Indecent Displays Bill, or something very like it—and I say that because, relatively speaking, this is easy. It has a very large measure of support which has nothing to do with Party divisions, so that it is a relatively quick and easy way of taking action of a kind which I believe would be much appreciated. It would, one hopes, clean up the streets—and perhaps also the shops—in a way equivalent to that which was achieved in another context by the Street OffencesAct of some 15 years ago. I think I can agree with my noble friend in that area. It might also succeed, if we were to clean up the streets in that way, in reducing the appetite for pornography. If it did that, that would be an even more fundamental gain.

My Lords, my third conclusion is that, having acted quickly—because we are ready to act quickly—on the law in relation to indecent displays, we should follow up at a later date with the much more difficult and, no doubt, more controversial, task of amending the law relating to obscene publication. That I believe requires some preparation; so I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, that I would hope that the Home Office and the Government generally might consider preparing a report which could be in the form of a Green Paper or some people might like to see some form of Parliamentary Select Committee which could be requested for our benefit to set out in advance of any Bill the possible Amendments to the law on obscene publications so that we may consider the various alternatives and the various advantages and disadvantages of at least three different fundamental lines of approach. So I urge the Government to act in this matter and to act quickly, because I believe it is a real need and because I believe that a growing number of the public demand it.

4.4 p.m.


My Lords, I am happy to congratulate the noble Lord. Lord Carr of Hadley, on his maiden speech. I would call him my noble friend if any ex-Speaker ever had any friends from another place. The noble Lord brings to this House the breadth and depth of his experience in the other Chamber. He has much to give us and we have had today a specimen of his wisdom, particularly in the field to which he has devoted much of his time in the House of Commons as Home Secretary. There are certain intimacies in the House of Commons which he has lost. We welcome him to the intimacies of the House of Lords, which are equally precious. Before I begin, may I say that in a long life I thought I understood what was meant by a liberal non-conformist conscience until I heard the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich. I must now reconsider all that I knew about liberalism and non- conformism since the day when I was a boy at my Liberal father's feet.

I hesitated to join in this debate and I do so chiefly because my noble friend Lord Nugent urged me to. Like so many, I am one of those who sidle away when people cast the first stone; but I believe that this debate is important and I would thank my noble friend Lord Nugent for raising again, as it was raised some four years ago, this important subject. Most of my life has been concerned with children, especially handicapped children. Christ was peaceful, gentle and kindly and yet he said of whomsoever hurts a child that, It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea". This to me is a basic statement of life. Our children live in a dangerous, materialistic society. In view of the general tenor of the debate which will follow my speech, let me say that most children are coping with this society despite certain defects in the media. In our schools and universities we have youngsters never so healthy, never with such opportunities and never so much taking advantage of their opportunities and, even more important, throughout our young folk, a willingness to help people less fortunate than themselves. Let me give a simple example. I learned this week of a seven-year-old boy, the son of one of the staff of the Commons Library, called Brian Pound, who walked 12 miles in a charity walk a few days ago on behalf of Help the Aged. I could give 1,000 illustrations of the young folk of ours in the schools and the universities and factories who are reaching out to help others despite the materialistic media.

But it is the new generation that is endangered in ways more subtle than any children encountered when you and I were young. To me, the grave danger is what is being called the pornography of violence—not sex and its precious wonders but sex plus violence, sex plus abnormality, sex plus cruelty and, indeed, violence and cruelty without sex. The Marquis de Sade has been rescued from his madhouse at Charenton to become a trendy figure in this generation of ours; to become a philosopher.

A few days ago, there was in London a scientific conference on the environment, and Professor McClintock, director of the School of Criminology and Forensic Studies at Edinburgh University, said: Violent sex crimes can be seen as an indication of general attitudes to both sexual behaviour and violence. In these spheres there is a growing trend to exploit for commercial purposes and for entertainment physical violence and the physical aspects of sexual behaviour. Violent pornography is a growth industry. There is money to be made out of the corruption of youngsters, and we have almost reached the stage where to prosecute a "bad" book is to advertise it—and only to advertise it. Therefore I would hope that this debate, with the Bill dealt with yesterday in another place, will help our children to achieve what we seek for them. Professor McClintock also said that there could be a closer link between changing sexual mores and sexual violence than some people would have us think. He mentioned some of the disturbing examples of new criminal sexual conduct, which I need not describe to anyone who reads our newspapers today.

I took part in debates years ago in another place which led to the abolition of the horror comic—an obscenity if ever there was one—and at that time I worked with a colleague in America who was a distinguished psychiatrist, Dr. Wertham. Over there, in a life devoted to helping the young victims of a sick society in the slums of New York, he has consistently urged in his books that if children are exposed to media which steadily portray violence, cruelty and cynical disrespect for the old values, one cannot be surprised when they go wrong. Dr. Wertham was bitterly attacked by the horror comic industry in America. Their profits were at risk, and he was defeated.

The violence shown on television in the United States has to be seen to be believed. There is at least some correlation between the violence of television in America and the extraordinary violence of the crimes in the great cities of the United States. Our own television is much better, but it is not faultless. In a study of the revolt that took place at Kent University in Ohio in 1970, the author wrote: In the average dramatic situation shown of television, a solution is found through immediate action, often through non-legal channels. That the action is violent is not so important, apparently, as the fact that it by passes the normal legal processes. Taking things into one's own hands, which triumphs in thousands of television dramas, has become a way of life. If violence in universities is at least partly the effect of the media in literature and television on university students, or at least on the semi-intelligent minority of university students, one cannot fail to realise its effect on less intelligent children who never reach university or college. What can save such children—what indeed does save so many such children—is the influence of father and mother, of a good home, a good school, a youth club or a church fellowship.

In my youth the customs, habits and ways of life were shaped in the home; but for many families, as the Crowther Report said some years ago, the old mores have gone and Church and parental influence, even parental care, have disappeared. A friend of mine from my county council days used to advocate the teaching of parenthood to young parents. I believe that if all parents accepted their responsibilities there would be fewer vandals and juvenile delinquents.

We now place on the shoulders of teachers heavier burdens, moral and social as well as intellectual, than ever before. Some parents leave everything to the school; but real education is a triangular partnership of parent, teacher and child, and the task of the teacher who has to deal with a child whose parents could not care less or who are even hostile, becomes very difficult indeed. I believe that it is in our schools that the battle to preserve real values is being fought—and it is in all our schools, not only the Church schools. It is a mistake to think that only the Church schools give moral and spiritual education. When a child leaves school at four o'clock, or half-past four or whenever it is, and goes out into a vastly different world—into a world with a vastly different ethos from that he or she enjoyed at school—it is a world of Wordsworth's, getting and spending, we lay waste our power. It is a world of violence; it is a cynical world. And so, if by State action we can assist in the preservation of values, and in the prevention of some of the evils we know exist today—the rape of minors, indeed rape itself; child battering; child nelect; child corruption; vandalism and a record number of juvenile crimes in London last year—then I think one would sacrifice a little bit of personal freedom towards that end.

I was horrified to read some days ago that the National Council for Civil Liberties were seeking to lower the age of consent and to enact that incest and homosexuality at almost any age between consenting persons should be allowed. That is liberty gone mad. The first long war in our history was to win freedom. Having won it, I think we have to fight for discipline; and in a free society that discipline must be free discipline, freely imposed by oneself. But the ambience and atmosphere created by the media can help, and the law can help, at least a little, to curb the worst features of obscenity and corruption. I am one of those who think that Christian and non-Christian, politicians of the Left and of the Right, those of any faith and those of none, can surely work together for the protection of children from those forces which seek, consciously or unconsciously but certainly profitably, to deprive our children of their high destiny as children.

Viscount NORWICH

My Lords, before the noble Lords sits down, may I put a brief point to him. At the end of his speech he referred to the recommendation by the National Council for Civil Liberties for a diminution in the age of consent. May I suggest that the noble Lord has fallen into a very popular misconception here. The idea of the National Council for Civil Liberties was not simply to make it legal for men to have intercourse with girls at a younger age than before. It was to keep boys of 14 and 15 who inevitably—though perhaps not concerned with rape or even intercourse or anything like that—are involved in sexual experimentation of a juvenile kind, as they have always been and will invariably be, from landing up in the criminal courts. That was the purpose of this suggestion.


My Lords, I understand that there is difficulty about this from both points of view. But we have drawn the line at 16, and I would not shake that line for anything.

4.20 p.m.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, the House has listened, as always, with great attention to the noble Lord who has just spoken. We have indeed listened to five notable speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, was clearly the ideal person to open this debate. Apart from his great personal popularity here, he has that combination of audacity and elevation on the one hand, and common sense and an air of responsibility on the other, which some of us find so very difficult to come by, particularly in regard to these unpleasant subjects. Of course, we have listened with enormous interest to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carr. If I say that he has at once stepped into the front rank of this House, that is no more than one would expect. It was a speech which will be studied for a long time to come and will carry a great deal of weight.

A Back-Bencher is a Back-Bencher is a Back-Bencher, and I must not exceed the average quota. I hope that I shall be forgiven if, in trying to be brief, I am somewhat dogmatic and no one, alas!, knows better than I the infinite ramifications of this unattractive subject. I begin by submitting these four propositions: first, pornography under any ordinary definition is always squalid—what I think the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, would call ugly—and often positively evil; secondly, in varying degrees it offends, or should offend, all of us; thirdly, it is almost certain to cause moral damage to the young and vulnerable; and, fourthly, as regards normal adults, which I agree is an important and difficult point, the damage done by a particular piece of pornography, such as "Oh! Calcutta!'', which was mentioned, or the Linda Lovelace book, is often extremely difficult to estimate. But no sane person doubts that a national diet of pornography will lower the moral level of a nation. Even the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, who delivered a beautiful speech in what I thought was a slightly confusing way—and I shall come to that in a moment—almost conceded the word "corrupting" to an atmosphere of pornography. He said "corrupting probably". So I think that with that one slight doubt on the part of the noble Viscount, there is a general consent, which is likely to be sustained throughout the House, that a national atmosphere of pornography is corrupting.

If I am told that these four propositions are incapable of scientific and mathematical proof, I can reply that that is true of all the main social axioms on which we found our national policies. If we had relied on scientific and mathematical proof, we should never have introduced any social reforms at all into this country. The propositions mentioned are, in my eyes, obvious and unassailable. What is much more puzzling and arguable is the precise use of the criminal law in defeating this grave social menace. We would all agree that there are many social evils which we deplore, but we do not turn them into criminal offences. Adultery is an obvious example. So far as I know, no one is proposing to make adultery a criminal offence. In some other world it might happen, but it will not happen here; and there are many other examples of social evils which we allow to run their course.

There are verbal and visual productions—what one might call quasi-pornographic—which many of us would like to see discouraged, and which are, in fact, discouraged, by the responsible authorities in broadcasting, newspapers and publishing. Yet, in many such cases, it is accepted that prosecution is too clumsy an instrument and would be too likely to interfere with traditional freedoms. Therefore, if I use the word "disgusting" about some production, it does not follow that I, or most people, would say that it ought to be prosecuted.

But almost all of us agree that somewhere or other a line must be drawn. Almost ail of us agree that complete freedom of speech must be interfered with, and that the criminal law must step in. We all accept the existence of a law of libel, a law of profanity and a law of sedition. But I am submitting now that we also accept the necessity of drawing a line somewhere in the area of sexual exploitation, of cruelty, or a mixture of the two—what is now called sadomasochism—or racialism or anti-Semitism. If we had time to debate these matters, the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, would no doubt like to answer questions as to whether or not he is in favour of laws against racial discrimination—and there are many questions of that kind. Once one takes up the position of complete freedom of speech, one is on fairly easy and, hence, in my opinion, somewhat foolish ground, but I am sure that that ground will not be taken up precisely by the noble Viscount. Lord Norwich.

Viscount NORWICH

My Lords, just to clarify this point, I hoped I had made very clear the distinction between things which were only matters between a man and his conscience, and those which were matters between a man and society. Any kind of anti-Semitism or racial discrimination is, of course, anti-social, and I should be in favour of the strongest possible penalties.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, what the noble Viscount has not, perhaps, investigated sufficiently is the damaging effect of someone who is corrupted by pornography. Let us assume that people can be corrupted by pornography, and a typical person of that kind becomes an agent of corruption. So the noble Viscount must not assume that anybody who becomes corrupted manages to enjoy his corruption all on his own. The noble Viscount reminded me, if I may say so with great respect, of the philosopher, Kant. It was said to me by the late Archbishop Temple—I do not know who said it originally—that his trouble was that he began at both ends of the road at once, and never met himself in the middle. I felt that that applied to the speech of the noble Viscount. I see him frowning in trying to understand the meaning, but I think it is plain enough. However, I shall try to spell out the point.

The noble Viscount started by assuming that nothing whatever must be done to interfere with pornography, but in reply to a question—I am not suggesting that he altered his line in reply to the question—as to what he would do about all this advertising of pornography through the post, he said that he would deal with that. Then in another part of his speech he said that he was prepared to take a very firm line against the propagation of pornography. We cannot carry that much further this afternoon, but I found the same trouble with him as with his eminent predecessor, Kant, the philosopher.

This is not a question of censorship—the word "censorship" has not yet been used, although we may have it later—and is simply the operation of the law of the land, through the ultimate decision of a jury giving effect to the Obscene Publications Act or whatever is the Act in question. But where and how is the line to be drawn? This is the crux of the problem before us. For reasons of time, I must touch only briefly on the special question of films where, alone, we possess a censorship. We do not have a censorship, but we have a very peculiar mixed kind of censorship in that one area.

Most of us will have noticed, though few will have had time to study it, the Report of the Law Commission published yesterday. Again, for reasons of time, I do not think I shall begin to criticise their findings, because other people have not brought that Report into the debate and it may be that we shall return to it on another occasion. The Director of the Festival of Light made some telling comments in The Times about the removal of the common law offence, and in a leading article The Times was very sharp about the suggestion that one could hand everything over to the area of the Obscene Publications Act, which Act already is in such an unsatisfactory condition. However, I will pass from that point, despite the fact that the Report came out this morning.

In the report of our Committee on Pornography in 1972, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, was kind enough to refer, the three main recommendations called for, first, a fundamental change in the Obscene Publications Act 1959; secondly, we called for a new law of indecency and, thirdly, for a new law against human exploitation. I have time to deal only with the first of these recommendations today, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, pointed out, is the hardest. I agree entirely with the noble Lord what he said was implied, too, in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford—that the 1963 Act, which, after all, had an unopposed Second Reading, should be reactivated without delay. I am referring to the law against indecent displays.

May I concentrate my remaining remarks on the Act of 1959. The peculiar, self-defeating complexity of the Act of 1959 is familiar by now—all the more so after its handling by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley. These almost insuperable difficulties were brought home to me five years ago by the Director of Public Prosecutions when I was preparing to open the debate which, as the House will recall, was held in your Lordships' House at that time. Everything since has confirmed what the Director told me then: the extraordinary difficulty of getting a conviction under the Act as it then was, and as it still is. In our own report we brought forward, as the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, was kind enough to mention, a solution contributed by some of the best legal minds in the country. I do not think, however—and I say this frankly to the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, and others—that that was regarded afterwards as an ideal solution by most of us, including the eminent legal people who drew it up. I regard the way as completely open for an approach along similar lines, but not inhibited in any way by anything we said then.

The intrinsic problem, however, goes deeper than the special defects of the 1959 Act, apart from all these problems—the question of juries and the rest. That and other questions have not been touched upon, but we know that all kinds of snags have arisen. Whatever the merits or demerits of that Act, the problem goes deeper than a mere dissection of the Act. I do not believe that we can ever be satisfied with an Act which will not allow conviction unless a connection is legally established between an individual piece of pornography—"Oh! Calcutta!", Linda Lovelace, or what you like—and the moral damage to citizens. The collective damage done by pornography in the bulk is surely beyond reasonable doubt—even the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, hardly seemed to object to that—but pornography cannot be prosecuted collectively. The task has to be performed in relation to particular pieces of pornography, and at the present time the cards, for the reasons stated, are heavily stacked on the side of the pornographers. So it is an Act which undoubtedly is good for the pornographers but not for anybody else.

I submit—this follows what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and by the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, and I am sure that it was in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Soper—that we need a law of pornography, of obscenity—call it what you will—that gives reasonable effect to the public standards of the time, although, of course, there will always be differences among juries as to whether a particular production is or is not to be regarded as criminal. Whatever the law, some alleged pornographers will be acquitted and others convicted. We must start on a new road, though not on one which is unknown to British law.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, has offered certain alternatives and I should like to support him in all that he said on that matter. As the noble Lord indicated, it may be that the present Act can be amended so that the meaning of the word "obscene" should no longer be limited in the manner which has caused so much confusion but should be given a more natural meaning. It may be that the present Act can be amended so that a production becomes obscene either if it is convicted under the present text or if it is grossly offensive to contemporary standards of decency—or some better phrase may occur. There are plenty of possibilities, but II agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, that clearly the first step should be to reactivate the Indecent Displays Act 1963, or something like it, and, while that is going on, to get ready to bring forward afterwards a more fundamental Act. I suggest that the concept of gross offensiveness should prove of much value, but I do not wish to anchor myself to a particular form of words this afternoon.

The crucial question is whether we do, or do not, want an effective obscenity law. Once we are convinced that we want such a law we are not likely to be satisfied with the present law. If we do not want an effective law we shall stick to the present law because it is obviously very ineffective; but if we want an effective law we shall want something very different. Once we are satisfied that we want an effective law we are not likely to allow the conviction of pornographers to depend, as now, on establishing legal proof of the demonstrated corrupting effect of a particular item of pornography. Of course there will be legal differences and difficulties, but I submit it is unbelievable that we cannot overcome those difficulties, once we are agreed that this task should be carried through.

Before I sit down may I say one word of reassurance to those whose interest in these matters is not so much legal or sociological as artistic. I acknowledge that when we drew up our report three years ago we did not pay sufficient attention to the anxieties of the artistic world at the time, although we did our best: we did not ignore them altogether. But it was noticeable in the debate in this House not so long ago on the theatre and the cinema, which was initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, that those who care most for the Arts tend to dislike pornography at least as much as the so-called moralists. In the climate of Britain today it is inconceivable that real art would be prosecuted successfully, when even the filthiest pornography gets away with it all too often. Yet the anxieties of the artists remain and they must receive a high priority in any steps that are taken to counter this evil flood.

It was once said that England wants to be clean but not to be cleaned by Chadwick, Chadwick being the great health reformer at the lime. We can be certain of this at least: that England will not permit me, or any other noble Lord, or any other individual, to impose our morality on others. I speak, however, as one of millions who have been silent a long time, but who are saying of pornography what the young Abraham Lincoln once said of slavery: If ever I get a chance to hit that thing, I'll hit it hard! My Lords, the hour has struck.

4.39 p.m.


My Lords, the recent increase in pornography, with the attendant need to amend or reform the Obscene Publications Act 1959, is very important, as previous speakers have already shown. I, too, would like to add my congratulations and thanks to my noble friend Lord Carr of Hadley for his excellent and helpful maiden speech. The subject of pornography is one which, oddly enough, despite its importance, doctors—I for one—come across comparatively seldom. Having been very happily married for 35 years and having had live children, I am in no way an expert on this subject.

There are four general questions that I should like to ask this afternoon. The first is about the so-called educational value of some of these obscene publications. Are they of any use in sex education? One of the most odd publications I have met was distributed privately some years ago in a school by a girl of 12. A copy reached the headmistress. She expelled the girl, who was brought to me by her mother, with her little booklet on sex which she had edited and illustrated for the benefit of her school friends. Her story was that she had seen an advertisement in a paper about advice on family planning. She had written for the literature, which arrived by return of post; she copied some of the more fascinating passages and pictures and had imagined the rest—it was a remarkable document. I told the headmistress that I thought this was an enterprising girl, inquisitive about sex, who had tried to find out something about it in quite an intelligent way; that what she had done was not really wicked—it was just one aspect of self-education in this subject—and that if there had been any attempt whatever towards sex education in the school this would never have happened. The headmistress took her back. She was a good pupil and did well.

At the other end of the sex-education scale some recent pornographic publications, such as the renowned book Inside Linda Lovelace, although written primarily for financial gain, are defended for their value in sex education. A leading article in The Times of 30th January, discussing the jury's acquittal of this obscene and erotic manual on lovemaking, quoted Dr. Brian Richards' defence, in another trial, of some of the most unpleasant and cruel pictures in a pornographic magazine. His defence was that they were valuable as a stimulus for masturbation. On this ground he convinced the jury that the publication was for the public good, which most people have found very difficult indeed to understand or appreciate, as my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford has already pointed out.

Many of my medical colleagues who specialise in psychiatry or in diseases associated with sex tell me that they disagree absolutely with Dr. Richards' view. Pornographic literature, they say, plays on the deep-seated instincts of violence and sexuality which are present to a greater or lesser degree in all of us. It is degrading and it appeals deliberately to the baser, more aggressive aspects of sexuality, making sex ugly and unpleasant, violent, cruel and callous towards women. Love and affection are completely excluded from most of it. It is the cause of many breakdowns in marriage. My specialist friends do not consider that any of that is good sex education. Neither do I.

My second question concerns the need for pornography. Is there ever any real need for it? When the developing human race lived in the jungle, hundreds of thousands of years ago, girls probably became pregnant about the age of 12, they went on being pregnant or feeding their babies until perhaps the age of 45 or 50, if they survived that long ordeal. These girls probably needed no special sex education. In the words of the popular song they were "Doing what comes naturally"; some of them may hardly have connected sex with having babies. When they grew older and needed it less they did not mind: they had other things to do.

Much the same applies to many healthy people nowadays, although contraception helps them to limit their families. They do very well and lead happy married lives without much sex education beyond what they have picked up for themselves on the way, and without any recourse to obscene, pornographic or erotic literature. But certain men and women in our modern civilisation, especially some who live in cities and those who are physically or mentally unfit, now need extra artificial and erotic stimulation to obtain sexual satisfaction. This is a terrible pity—one symptom of a sickness in our modern way of life, some of the others being the increase in crimes of violence, alcoholism and drug addiction—and it is one of the reasons for the popularity of pornography.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, has already pointed out, other unfortunate people are born with a true sexual deviation which is not really their fault—they are made like that—and they may feel the need for something of this sort. If so, they deserve our sympathy and help rather than our scorn or contempt. A case can be made out, perhaps, for the use of mild pornographic literature, occasionally, to help the elderly and others who may be partially impotent. The difficulty is that if pornographic material is available to those with sexual deviations, the under-sexed and the elderly it will always be obtainable by inquisitive and enterprising adolescents; which brings me to my third question: Should teenagers and young adults be our first and main concern?

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, in his admiration of our young today. Many of them are splendid people, but schools of all kinds are a ready market for pornographic publications. The sex drive is strong in adolescents, and reading even soft porn can give them twisted ideas about sex. Having no natural sex life, and perhaps not even knowing what normal sex really is, they may greet their first introduction to soft porn just with a giggle. But later they remember some of it, perhaps think about it seriously, and become further entangled. The borderline between soft porn and hard porn is ill-defined: both stress the deviant and the abnormal.

The peculiar things some of these children read may bring out from the bottom of the subconscious traits which might otherwise remain dormant for ever, but which interfere with, or even replace, normal sexuality later. Doctors sometimes see youngsters, boys and girls who, after reading pornographic literature, are bewildered by it all and worried as to whether or not they are normal themselves. To the immature a display of unreal and absurd sexual athleticism may lead them to assume that they are inadequate sexually and as persons. They come to us with all kinds of physical complaints, when what they really want is reassurance that they are sexually healthy. This is one of the reasons why good sex education in schools is so important—to help most of these children to understand that it is they who are normal and that there are others who are not, rather than the other way round.

One of our best known headmasters, with long experience of boys in two of our largest schools, wrote to me the other day in these words: Confronted with hard porn, nearly all adolescents (and many adults) find it compulsive reading. They have to read through to the end. It may leave a deposit of guilt—of feeling unclean—but it will certainly leave a latent excitement and curiosity about the deviant. Many of us here this afternoon may never have seen really hard pornography. It is disgusting stuff.

My headmaster friend wrote on: Lots of 15-year-old boys and girls have seen it. They write off to the small advertisements in the ordinary soft porn magazines (obtainable in any small bookstall). What comes back frightens them, stimulates them, and often corrupts them. I have often had to deal with it, and ordinary lesbianism and buggery are like Sunday-school outings compared with it. The sort of thing which may result—breakdown, suicide, etc.—is described by Lord Longford in his book, when he tells what happened in a State boarding school when the prefects decided to put their reading into practice. The headmaster concluded: My point is that acquaintance with hard porn during adolescence persuades the young to live beyond their emotional and sexual capital. It jeopardises their future happiness. In fact it corrupts. I, and I believe many of your Lordships, will agree with most of that.

My fourth and last question is: What are we to do about it? In the battle that doctors wage against diseases, they can eliminate the cause of some by surgery; they can prevent the spread of others by the use of antibiotics and special drugs. Better still, they can prevent some altogether by making the body immune, so that the sickness never gets a hold. It is much the same in our battle against obscene publications. All these three therapeutic measures are needed. We can try to cut them out by stopping production, or preventing their entry into this country; we can reduce their spread by cutting distribution; but it would be far better in the long run to develop a widespread resistance or immunity against this evil. A large number of people already have such an immunity and are unaffected by pornography. They see indecent publications on the bookstalls, but do not buy them because they are not interested, or are revolted. There are ways of encouraging this uninterest or revulsion. I believe that for the future good of our society more could be done by parents, doctors, schoolmasters and schoolmistresses, sex educationists, and clergy, social workers and by many others towards this end.

My Lords, I and many of my friends in the medical profession, and outside it, will welcome, I am sure, the amendments suggested here today to the law on obscene publications. We must accept the fact that however toughly we try to discourage pornographic publications and displays by changes in our laws, it will be impossible to abolish them entirely. But they must not be thrust upon our adolescents for commercial gain. Surely we must all do our very best, as soon as possible, to protect our young from that.

4.52 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of WAKEFIELD

My Lords, I notice that there remain 16 speakers on the list in this debate. I feel the kindest thing I can do in the circumstances is to edit what I have to say so that I omit that which has already been said—not that that leaves very much. Either we remove all restraints in this matter, as in Denmark, on the grounds that what is no longer prohibited loses its attraction, and on the ground that it is difficult to enforce a law which defies definition—it is too early to say what the effects will be of the steps that have been taken in Denmark—or we must recognise the need for a law dealing with obscene publications and indecent displays. We must also recognise that, in spite of the difficulties of diagnosing depravity or corruption, we must apply ourselves to the fashioning of a law which will have the effect of controlling the filth and moral squalor which has become a very profitable industry.

My Lords, I am persuaded that we need a law of this kind. Although I would support the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, in his plea that the law be strengthened, I have some questions which I hope will not give the impression that I am the Devil's advocate about this. These questions really are troubling my mind, and I share them with your Lordships in the hope that by doing so I might find some echo in your Lordships' own thinking. We have to face the problem of the relationship of the law to prevailing public standards. Is it any good strengthening the law if juries are not going to find for the prosecution? By and large, juries reflect public standards. The stronger the law, I should have thought the less likely are there to be convictions. I simply ask this question of those who know more about the subject than I.

Another issue troubling me is that of the relationship of conscience with personal freedom, for the two are inseparable in my judgment. We cannot so order society that we remove all temptation from it, because the resistance of temptation is a condition of the development of character. Am I a better man because I do what is right because I must, or because I choose? If we have stronger laws, the effect of which is to make the morality mandatory, we may find ourselves getting dangerously near an ugly thing called censorship. Censorship means that a group of people abrogate to themselves the power to decide what is good for other people. It is based on the assumption that people are basically weak, feeble, and need protecting from themselves. It is power over other people's right of choice. It is more dangerous for those who exercise it than for those upon whom it is exercised. I ask this question because it troubles me. But those who, in the name of art, self-expression and entertainment claim a total freedom to say, do, enact or provide for public consumption what they like, regardless of moral standards or the effect on public behaviour, are in danger of destroying the very freedom they value, for they will provoke a kind of dictatorship of righteousness. This is where my thinking leads me. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, should I appear to be frustrating his intentions.

The issue of personal freedom to exercise conscience—that still, small voice which governs our choices—is, I believe, involved in this matter. The more court cases we have involving obscene publications, the greater the publicity given to this kind of filth. The definition of obscenity is something very difficult to arrive at. Juries find it difficult to judge a publication as obscene, and it is not necessarily a weakness in the law, but an indication of a genuine difficulty in arriving at a conclusion as to whether depravity and corruption can be proved beyond all reasonable doubt. But the law must be sufficiently clear and unambiguous so that a person is in no doubt at all that what he is doing is a criminal offence.

Having ventured to share with your Lordships some of the questions which worry me, may I close by asserting that in the general trend of obscenity and pornography, enough is enough. We have arrived at a point at which we must ask ourselves how long we can continue to call ourselves a civilised nation, in so far as civilisation is a pursuit of excellence, loyalty to moral values, a concern for the wellbeing of its weakest members, the responsible use of freedom, and reverence for truth, beauty and goodness. How far can we allow these priceless values to be destroyed, and to be replaced by violence, sadism, perversion, and those things which defile man made in the image of God?

My Lords, there are those who would deny that we are any longer a Christian country, although I am bound to say that we are a good deal more Christian than is generally conceded. But there are none who would deny that we are a civilised country. I believe our laws should reflect our standards of civilisation and morality. We must ask that the servants of the Crown (the Attorney-General in respect of the stage, the Director of Public Prosecutions in respect of films) apply the existing laws more energetically. None of us can escape the need for the strengthening of our own personal standards, for being clearer as to the boundaries between good and evil and exercising a greater readiness to act wherever the opportunity presents itself. I hope that the result of this debate in your Lordships' House will be to encourage those who fashion and apply our laws to act in the knowledge that there are millions of people in Britain today who are deeply disturbed on this issue and who are thoroughly sickened to see the life of the nation poisoned by a minority dedicated to its corruption.

5.2 p.m.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, I think we shall all feel that my noble friend Lord Nugent has performed another service to this House by bringing forward this issue today. I know nothing about the law as it affects obscenity, but from what I see going on around me I do judge that the present condition of the law cannot be regarded as satisfactory. It would be an absolute impertinence on my part to attempt to answer the questions that the right reverend Prelate has just posed to us in his most thoughtful and interesting speech. I am only venturing to speak for a very few minutes, not because I think anything I can say will be in the least helpful to your Lordships, but because I feel that on an issue like this the more people who are ready to stand up and be counted the better. I hope, in passing, that in this debate when we use the word "obscene" we intend it to mean what it is intended in the English language to mean, because one finds it a rather overworked word nowadays and it is often used in a loose and almost meaningless context.

My Lords, as a principle, I believe strongly that in matters affecting an individual alone maximum liberty should prevail. But, alas! in our complex and interdependent society how few of our actions fall naturally into that category and do not affect other people in some way apart from ourselves. Personally I have no sympathy at all with the views of those who want all restrictions on obscenity removed. Some say that, because society has become so largely permissive already, it must be sensible to remove the remaining restrictions on conduct of whatever kind. Such people sometimes claim that in such libertarian views they are speaking in particular for all young people.

I doubt whether either of those two propositions is entirely true. My own experience is that the extreme views that are advanced are sometimes put forward by people who are rather shallow and superficial thinkers, or even occasionally by some who are unstable and disturbed in character themselves. I hasten to say that I am very far indeed from including the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, in either of those categories. He gave us a most interesting and obviously deeply felt speech. I do not think that, in changing the law, one need go to the length of some of the extremes that the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, feared.

May I say what a pleasure it was to listen to the distinguished maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Carr of Hadley. His wide and long experience and his human wisdom will be of enormous benefit to your Lordships' House. I know we shall look forward to hearing from him on many occasions and on many different subjects. I liked the analogy that my noble friend, Lord Carr, used, when he said that because some sick people require a dangerous drug that is no argument for making it available to all without prescription. I think that is very true. I am sure we all want our young people to grow up breathing clean air, and if we are honest we have to admit that some of the air they breathe today is by no means clean or unpolluted. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Fawley, in what your Lordships will agree was a most impressive speech, emphasised what I feel, that the impact on the young is the most important aspect of this problem altogether.

When it comes to definition of "obscenity" I realise, as we all must, that there are real difficulties. But bearing in mind the manifold difficulties with which the law copes with fair success in definitions of difficult matters, like the noble Earl, Lord Longford, I cannot believe that problem is unmanageable. I should have liked to tell a little story about the noble Earl, but I do not see him in his place, so I must defer that to our next debate on obscenity. I shall not forgot it. To what extent obscenity depraves and corrupts I do not know, but that it never does so is something I personally find impossible to believe. Where an intention to deprave or corrupt is shown, then surely there must be a cast-iron case for the law to intervene effectively. But personally I would take my main stand on what is considered grossly offensive to contemporary standards of decency, on what disgusts and outrages, deeply held convictions of large numbers of ordinary normal people.

Some say that what is printed in books or periodicals—which the public need not buy—or is shown in films or on the stage—which the public need not pay to see—should be exempt from any supervision. I have considered whether I could accept those difficulties, but I do not find such an argument conclusive, in view of the compulsiveness to many people of such reading, and particularly in relation to the availability of such books or films to the young. I suggest that sensible laws can be a valuable support to weaker minds who really need all the help they can get. But from the fact that many things which are offensive and disgust ing to wide sections of public opinion are displayed and made available, I conclude that the present law does want reviewing and clarifying, as my noble friend Lord Nugent has so cogently argued.

My Lords, no nation which has proceeded on the assumption that social conduct should be freed from any elements of self-discipline has survived for long. It has always eventually succumbed from a loss of vital spirit and progressive debilitation from within. Some past civilisations have not been destroyed from without, but because their societies grew to feel that the ancient standards were no longer worth defending. Let us ensure that our society will have a stronger will to survive, and to defend standards and distinctions between right and wrong which the great majority of our nation still in their hearts know are the hallmarks of any lasting human civilisation.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, the list of speakers is long and I must do my best to abbreviate my remarks. I hope your Lordships will allow me at the outset to express the great delight that I felt as I listened to the second maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley. He tried hard to be non-controversial. Having held the high offices that he has held, and being the author of the 1973 Bill, it would have been expecting too much from him, almost inhuman to ask him to be wholly non-controversial. May I say that he was delightfully controversial, and I think he assisted the House greatly by his experience and the contribution that he made. I am quite sure that I speak for all Members of your Lordships' House when I say that we shall look forward in the future to hearing from him as often as possible—and as controversially as possible.

Having said that, may I get one thing out of the way. I speak purely on my own account, but I am much more concerned with what my noble friend Lord Longford referred to as the literary aspect of this question. A noble Lord earlier in the debate said that one man's obscenity might be another man's literature. In order to get this tonic out of the way may I cite shortly at the outset from Lord Longford's report on pornography. This is what he says on page 261: Just take, for example, the experience of Thomas Hardy. Jude the Obscure was written in 1593–4 and published in 1895. The novel was violently attacked in the Press as immoral. Bishop How announced that he had burnt the book. A Mrs. Margaret Oliphant hounded Hardy over it, in a nationwide campaign. In Blackwoods, in January 1896, she published an article under the title The Anti-Marriage League in which she denounced the novel as … the strongest illustration of what Art can come to when given over to the exposition of the unclean' and added, 'Nothing so coarsely indecent as the whole history of Jude… has ever been put in British print…. These attacks finally led Hardy to abandon novel writing and literature was thereby sadly deprived. That to me is an absolute tragedy, and I frankly confess that when I think of the millions of people all over the English-speaking world since 1893 who might have had their spirits elevated and derived the most intense pleasure from other novels written by that great writer had he not been deterred by those two people whom I will describe as of evil memory. I think that what is there said in the report of Lord Longford is an absolute tragedy.

It is not only limited to this century or to this country. In France in the 1850s Flaubert was prosecuted because he wrote Madame Bovary. It was said that Madame Bovary was indecent. Later on an English publisher, still in the last century, Vizetelly, was prosecuted because he brought out an English edition of Madame Bovary and Emile Zola's La Terre. He undertook to withdraw from publication all works by Emile Zola. That is such an appalling situation that it looms larger in my mind than the other considerations which have been discussed by your Lordships in the course of the debate.

Having said that, may I put it aside and not revert to it. It seems to me that the difficulty in a debate of this sort is that one is so tempted to assemble strong adjectives such as filthy, disgusting, corrupting, degrading, and all the rest of it, and think that they constitute a substitute for argument. They do not. I propose to use the word "indecent", which I suppose comprehends what people mean and is not emotive as these other terms are. At the outset of the argument the great difficulty is in defining the word, "indecent". What do you mean by indecent? From the practical point of view, it seem to me that the debate has divided itself into two parts. Cinematographic displays, theatres, public displays of all sorts: they can be kept under control by the law. After all, a few years back we passed what I think is called the Theatre Censorship Act. But one has the difficulty again of what you mean by indecent. It is easy to say that you must not put on an indecent performance in a theatre or cinema, and prosecute those who do it, but you first have to ask yourself what you mean by the word, "indecent". It seems to me that the initial difficulty arises there.

I hope that I shall not be transgressing your Lordships' rules if I read to your Lordships the transcript of a passage which I should have thought was, by all ordinary standards, grossly indecent. I should like to take your Lordships' view on it. I hope it will not be transgressing because the transcript comes from what I think is one of the most beautiful and moving passages in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. It conies from the nurse's speech. The nurse makes this speech to Juliet, who is only 14 years of age, and also to her mother, who is also present. This is what she says. The transcript is quite short. The nurse says in Romeo and Juliet. Act 1, Scene III: On Lammas' eve at night shall she be fourteen; … And since that time it is eleven years: For then she could stand alone; nay, by the rood, She could have run and waddled all about; For even the day before, she broke her brow: And then my husband—God be with his soul! A' was a merry man—took up the child: 'Yea', quoth he, dolt thou fall upon thy face? Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit; Wilt thou not, Jule?' and, by my holidame, The pretty wretch left crying and said 'Ay'…. 'Yea', quoth my husband, fall'st upon thy face? Thou wilt fall backward when thou comest to age; Wilt thou not, Jule?' it stinted and said 'Ay'. The nurse, in the presence of a little girl of 14, jests about the fact that her husband, a grown up man, makes what I should have thought an indecent suggestion to this young girl, that is, if she fell on her face when she was young she would be more sensible later on and fall on her back when she was older, I suppose for the purpose of sexual intercourse. Is that indecent or not? I should have thought that by most ordinary standards this is grossly improper for a married man to talk like that to and in the presence of a young girl. I am sure that none of us would think of doing such a thing. In my view, that is one of the most beautiful passages in Shakespeare, and it highlights the difficulty of what one means by "indecent".

There are at present available two Private Bills. One was presented by Mr. Rees-Davies, a distinguished Queen's Counsel and a Member of another place, and he wrote to The Times a letter which I felt was helpful in that he suggested an amendment which in his view would properly define what one means by indecency. The definition was in two parts but I will read just one passage. It has two limbs and both must be satisfied. The first is: any material shall be obscene if it grossly affronts contemporary and community standards of decency. How in the world does one decide whether a publication offends in that particular respect? Is evidence to be allowed as to what the contemporary community concept of decency requires? I do not know. I suppose that counsel would submit that he was entitled to call evidence to show that everybody in the community would be disgusted, or that he would be entitled to call evidence to show that only 5 per cent. would be disgusted and that the others would not take the slightest notice. That, I should have thought, if I may say so with the greatest respect to Mr. Rees-Davies whom I know well and who is a personal friend, was the worst sort of criminal drafting that one could possibly conceive. Whatever one should have mind to when drafting a criminal Statute—and after all, we speak in the wake of our debate on the Renton Report only a few weeks back—for goodness' sake draft it in such a way that counsel advising his client who is contemplating a particular course of action can, with reasonable precision, say, "You will be committing an offence if you do that", or "You will not be committing an offence"! If counsel is asked to say whether if one publishes something one will offend against that first part of Mr. Rees-Davies's definition, the only answer I submit that he could possibly give to his client is, "I do not have the remotest idea. It depends entirely on the accident of who sits upon the jury which tries you." With great respect that is very bad drafting. If we are going to put the citizen at risk of a conviction if the wrong people sit on the jury and an acquittal if they do not, then we are doing a great deal of harm to our legal system.

Other public considerations are involved and one is this. I should have thought that all of us now were very much concerned at the growing disrespect for the law. It is time and again set at defiance; perhaps that is an exaggeration, but it is much more the case than it ought to be and that is also a primary public interest with which we should concern ourselves. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, who I thought introduced the Motion with great moderation and restraint, for which I am most grateful to him. I ask him what would be his conjecture supposing an offence is created which makes the dissemination or possession of hard porn an offence. Will it stop it? I am sure that the answer to that is 100 per cent., No; of course it will not. It will go on just the same but under the counter instead of over the counter. Those who make large sums of money now by selling it over the counter will, I suppose, make even larger sums of money by selling it under the counter and the attempts to corrupt the police will increase, and we shall be increasing the disrespect for the law to the extent that it at present exists. That is exactly what we should avoid most carefully doing at the present time.


My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble and learned Lord was asking me a question which he expects me to answer, but I think that perhaps I should. I would expect that if the law were drafted in such terms that hard porn (as the noble and learned Lord defines it) was judged to be obscene within the meaning of whatever Act there was and by the court and the punishment for the offence proved was a heavy punishment in the confiscation of the material and in the measure of the fine, this would have a restraining effect. Although it might drive a certain amount of material underground, it would most certainly restrain the public display of material and restrain others who were similarly selling the material from doing the same. This is, of course, a matter of judgment, but assuming that the law is effectively observed in this matter, then I should expect it to have a restraining effect. I quite agree that it will not eliminate it—it never has—but it is a matter of restraint.


I am grateful to the noble Lord, my Lords, and I would say in reply to what he has just said that supposing one is talking about advertisements, then, yes; that can be stopped. Supposing one is talking about cinematograph shows; those, too, can be stopped. Supposing one is talking about displays in the theatre; that is already governed by Statute, the measure we passed a few years ago. But if one is asking: Is it likely to deter those who can make money out of it by selling hard porn under the counter instead of selling it over the counter, then my conjecture would be—I may be completely wrong—not that it would have next to no effect but that it would have the reverse effect; they would charge more money for it. I accept that that is conjecture, but I venture to reinforce that conjecture with my own personal experience; and I hope I am not talking too much about myself.

I go back to the 1945 Parliament when I was privileged to work with my great friend, Lord Shawcross, who will go down in history as a great Attorney General, and we had the question of "red petrol". Your Lordships will remember that petrol in the post-war stringency was extremely short and, finally, in an endeavour to try to limit the consumption of petrol to necessary needs—commercial needs and so on—a system of red petrol was introduced. It did not work. It was sold under the counter and the system had to be abandoned. It was formally abandoned and that damaged the law.

My noble friend Lord Longford said "Yes, but consider something like the laws against racial prejudice". I again apologise for talking about myself, but I did, in fact, in my own handwriting, draft a good deal of the law of 1965 making it an offence to disseminate race hatred and, of course, before I did that I con sidered most carefully whether it could be stopped and whether the police could enforce this law. As for the public dissemination of race hatred, it has been found perfectly possible to stop it; there have been prosecutions for it now and again and it would be quite untrue, I should have thought, to say that that law has not operated, because it has. It has operated very effectively and I should have thought that in the very important context of trying to prevent the dissemination of race hatred against, for example, coloured people it has had a very useful effect. I hope I can say that without conceit, but I say it with conviction. I respectfully submit, therefore, that it would be counter-productive, as it is sometimes called, to make the dissemination of hard porn an offence, even if one could find a satisfactory definition, and goodness knows what that definition is going to be.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, may I place one fact in front of the noble Lord? I do not believe that anyone doubts that less hard porn is being sold in Soho at the moment than was the case when we reported. One great change has been that most of the porn shops have closed and quite a number of the leading pornographers are in prison. I believe that the noble Lord should bear that in mind when trying to estimate the effect of prosecuting.


My Lords, one can go on making conjectures about this ad infinitum. I still, with great respect, adhere to the view which I ventured to express. It is that all one would do—"all" is perhaps a strong term and I qualify it and say instead that one would succeed in doing little more than causing the present over-the-counter sales of hard porn to be sold under the counter for rather more money. One would also increase the attempts which it has been said are unhappily being made to corrupt the police. I believe that would be a great tragedy.

For those reasons, while I personally would never make the least endeavour to stop the display of this type of thing in cinemas and theatres and so on—and, in theatres, it is not necessary for we already have an Act of Parliament to stop it—I must point to the extreme difficulty of trying to do it and of achieving a workable definition which will not gravely impair our criminal law. With that, having, I hope, not taken up too much time, I will resume my seat.

5.31 p.m.

The Earl of HALSBURY

My Lords, those of us who are disturbed not only by the escalation in quantity but by the depraved quality of the pornography with which we are bombarded near the purlieus of all our main line railway stations in the Metropolis and near the entertainment industry and restaurant centres, are doubtless as grateful as I to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for having given us an opportunity to debate these matters this afternoon. It is a tiltyard on which I have for many years wanted to break a lance.

I have spoken of escalation. I think that a bad thing. The noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, seemed to think that a mere expansion of pornography indicated that it was serving some kind of social purpose. There is a copybook heading which we forget at our peril: namely, that appetite grows with what it feeds on. Why is pornography escalating except through sales promotion? The plethora from which we suffer is, in my view, a direct consequence of the licentious society in which we live. That society is a product of the learned fools who extol it and the treason of the establishment which fails to control it. I choose my words so as to try to translate two rather more colloquial idioms from the French. These are the concepts of l'idiot savant and la trahison des clercs. I have called that the treason of the establishment. There can be no translation of clerc into English. It does not mean "clerk". It goes back to an earlier period.

I call our society licentious rather than permissive to remind your Lordships that in Latin the words licentia and permissio are synonymous. That is why we have a driving licence, a gun licence and a dog licence and why, if one wants to be married, one must have a wedding licence. One must have permission to do it. The permissive society is the licentious society. To avoid the use of the word "licentious" and to use the softer "permissive" is merely one of those meioses—one of those understatements—in which the licentious society rejoices.

I shall not take up time in shocked moralising because pornographers and their lobby can take the point that morality is a matter of personal opinion and of judgment, and who am I to be a judge of such matters? I do not accept that view and I should be happy to go along with the views of the noble Lord, Lord Soper, on morality, but that is not the battle that I want to fight this afternoon. I would sooner take my stand on the effects that continual perusal of pornography must have upon individual and social psychology. At every point of reality, whether through the printed word, the still photograph, the moving picture or the stage play, pornography gets its emphasis entirely wrong—destructively so, in my view.

Some animals—and man is an animal, albeit a spiritual one—have a strongly developed sense of privacy. Others do not. Dogs and monkeys have no sense of privacy whatsoever so far as the performance of the natural functions of their body, of excretion and copulation, are concerned. Cats have a very strong sense of privacy with respect to the same functions except upon those occasions when they come under the doom of Noah. I believe that men, like cats, have a very strong natural instinct for privacy and that it is a natural instinct which we disregard at our peril. Taboos vary from place to place, from time to time and from culture to culture. One thing may be for free in one culture at a particular time and another at another, but for everything that is permitted there is always something that is taboo. The concept of the taboo, the indecent—decet, it is proper, it is fitting; indecent, it is not suitable—permeates all human cultures, and the instinct for privacy is totally violated by treating the natural functions of the body as a spectacle, no matter what means are used to display the spectacle. By being, as it were, voyeurs in potentiality, we violate our own natural instinct for privacy.

The latest nonsense from the pornographic lobby is that pornography is good for us because it relaxes tension. The whole literature on this subject is unanimous in supporting the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Fawley, that it does nothing of the kind. Nor is that its intention. The whole object of the contemplation of pornography is to enhance tension by the stimulation of fantasies. If relaxation ensues it is not by contemplation but by the methods indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. From the start, pornography treats people not as people but as objects of contemplation in media which mentally debauch those who allow themselves to be so treated. I refer to the models who allow themselves to be photographed and the actresses who take part.

Sex, as part of the whole union of persons is thus expelled from the outset. In literature, pornography treats the clinically regarded orgasm as the only factor to be pursued as many times as can be crowded into a lifetime, and that is that. The developing family life between partners who are dedicated to one another, to their children and, later to their grandchildren, and who are loved and cherished as ends rather than as means, is wholly foreign to the pornographic outlook. The latter is therefore destructive of the whole man in anybody who indulges himself with these fantasies.

Yet there is no escape from having pornography brought to one's notice. Every main line station that I know of is covered by a dirty bookshop. I used to have offices near Paddington and every single approach to the station from the Southern direction by which the main traffic approaches the station had a dirty bookshop. There is one outside Victoria Station and another outside Waterloo. I cannot speak about Euston and Kings Cross because I only go there by Underground. The BBC and ITV invariably go as far as they dare. Last night, I switched off, revolted by what I saw. It was the fingers of a doctor feeling a female breast. So far so good. That was in the clinic. But the next shot was of a the doctor gloating over the stimulus which it had aroused in him. He was doing so in salacious language over drinks with a commercial traveller who was peddling pharmaceutical drugs and so on. Disgusted, my wife and I said as one, "Switch the damn thing off!" If I may borrow a little from the Shakespeare of the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, and send him a quotation in return, what I should have liked to say at that time was: Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, To sweeten my imagination. Anyone yielding to this battering must be damaged by it; that is to say, corrupted and depraved in proportion to the battering. That those who defend it are corrupted and depraved to the point that they cannot see what has happened to them is the proof of it.

I have said nothing of the further battering of human sensitivity that ensues from representations of perverted sex and the conversion of sexual pleasure, which is natural and right, into the evil pleasure that arises against nature by the infliction of pain and suffering on a fellow creature. I am not in this context referring to homosexuality, because I prefer to regard that as an inappropriate direction of sexual effections. I am concerned rather with such horrors as bestiality, and everything else one can find in the index to von Kraft-Ebbings Psycho pathologia Sexualis. When it comes to definitions of what is corrupting and depraving, I am not myself a lawyer and I do not know what their difficulty is. When one studies logic one is told that there are many methods of defining words. One is the ostensive definition. That is the way one teaches one's children the names of animals when taking the children around a zoo. One says that that is a camel, that is a giraffe, that is a lion, that is a tiger. The children learn their mother tongue that way, not in terms of dictionary definitions. I do not know what objections the lawyers have to using the method of ostensive definition in this type of context. Why can they not say, quite simply, that if it is in the index to von Kraft-Ebbing it may not be sold on the public counter. That seems to be one way of going at it—


My Lords, would the noble Earl forgive me if I intervene for a moment? I have been following his argument with great care. A camel is of course always a camel, and can always be seen and recognised as a camel, but obscenity cannot be recognised quite so well.

The Earl of HALSBURY

My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord was following me quite as attentively as he claimed. There is no question of recognising it, except in the index to von Kraft-Ebbing's Psycho pathologia Sexualis. If it is there, it is in, and that means it is out. I hope I am explaining myself clearly.

Through the kindness of the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, who drew my attention to the matter, I am greatly obliged to a total stranger, a Mr. O. R. Johnston (to whom I expect your Lordships are also obliged), for a memorandum circulated for the use of Members of both Houses, in which the current state of the law is analysed and amended notionally to deal with the situation. Today we have available the report of the Law Commission, to which my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford referred, and I hope that the law will be amended on the lines suggested. In time gone by I was depressed by the fact that every unsuccessful prosecution for obscenity was, in effect, a licence to all-corners to go just that far in the future. So we got a kind of creeping debasement of the literary and pictorial coinage. Disappointed as I was, I worked out something more akin to the liquor licensing laws, designed to protect the public and young people from infection, rather than attempt total prohibition, directed against what was already so corrupt that a breach of the law would not matter to those who were determined to achieve their objective.

If what I am now to say resembles some of what the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, said. I ask your Lordships to register that I do not go along with all that he said. So I assume that an amended law will be brought to bear in a current situation where organised, commercialised, pornography is being supplied to an unspecified number of members of the public who, by this time, want it. The problem is to prevent this organisation going underground. Remember, my Lords, what the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, said about prohibition in the United States of America. I could not agree with him more. The result was a disaster of surreptitious law breaking, entailing the connivance, and ultimately the corruption, of the police. Vice laws are always a sensitive area from the standpoint of police integrity, and there is a case for issuing limited licences on terms, at any rate, while the worst of the poison is bled out of the system.

These, my Lords, are the kind of terms I have in mind. First, there should he a substantial deposit of money as a guarantee of compliance with the terms. Secondly, the shop should display a notice "Licensed pornographer". Thirdly, there should be a Government warning: "Pornography corrupts and depraves." People will not probably pay any attention to that, any more than they do to the warning on cigarette packets, but it is at least a sop to Cerberus. Fourthly, there should be no display in the shop window, and the interior of the shop should be invisible from the front with the door open. Fifthly, no premises should be licensed within one mile of a theatre or restaurant centre, or a mainline railway station.

Sixthly, no goods other than pornography should be sold. This is the heart of what I have in mind, because if pornography may not be sold in the high street bookstall, and nothing else may be sold by the back-street pornographer, a joint prosecution for selling the same publication must catch one of them. Therefore they will come to an understanding with one another, so as to keep themselves jointly out of trouble. Thus there will be the type of system which is self-monitoring as it goes along and which will not require a lot of intervention from outside. Seventhly, no minors should be allowed inside the premises in question, in much the same way as the laws on liquor operate, and, eighthly, there should be no trading in perverted sex of the type I have indicated. So it would substantially be soft porn which was sold there. Ninthly, there should be special powers of entry and search by the police at any time to ensure that the law is being kept and that premises are not being used as an under-cover establishment for some other activity, such as the peddling of drugs.

These thoughts have been in my mind for a long time. If your Lordships will overcome an initial repugnance at the idea of compromising with unrighteousness, and concentrate on effectiveness, you may think that these ideas are worth a second thought. As the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, said, there always was a trade in "rara et curiosa" enjoyed, for the most part, by the well-to-do in back parlours at the rear of "arty" bookshops. There, when I was young, one might be lucky to get a copy of Aristophanes' Lysistrata illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley; a good ithyphallic joke, according to the standards of today, but still capable of offending pictorially those who would not find a stage performance of Lysistrata offensive. So, with the noble Lord, I assume that there will always be a residue of what some of us disapprove. It is as well to keep it under observation and control. Control does not imply approval. It is not enough to pass laws if they are not kept. One way of accomplishing this is to play-off human weaknesses against one another. It has been written that: the history of mankind is the history of its loves, its hates, its hopes, its fears, its crimes, its follies, and its greeds. It is greed that I would offset: the greed of one person against that of another; the greed of one man for sexual stimulation: the greed of another man for money; and by putting them under control ensure the governance of men in the domains where positive law finds it difficult to bend powerful drives under its yoke.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, first I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford on his courage in introducing this debate. Without any doubt he will receive floods of letters from those who want to reduce all our standards and ensure that everything is for free. I also wish to add my congratulations to those already extended to my noble friend Lord Carr of Hadley on his maiden speech and on his felicitous choice in selecting a subject in which, as a former Home Secretary, he had very real knowledge. He will know all too well the impact upon crime of the evils of pornography, particularly in our capital city.

During my years in Parliament the lowering of standards has, I believe, encouraged the proliferation of sordid, sadistic, and even violent exposition of sexual relations, wholly derogative to the human love and respect which those of us who want to see the quality of life, as well as the standard of life, maintained, believe in. These new displays, this new literature—if one can call it such—are only too readily available to the young and, in particular, to the impressionable minority who, unhappily, and sometimes tragically, are very seriously influenced by it. We also have the quite appalling displays around our main centres, which confront residents, visitors and, particu larly, tourists in our major cities. But I am concerned in this debate, not about the middle-aged man or woman who, in the privacy of his or her own study, revels over some pornographic literature. I am far more concerned about the increase in the availability of really horrific and regularly published journals, and the ease with which they come into the hands of the young and the adolescent, mature or immature, and about their being used and touted by those who consider themselves more mature and who believe that they are educating their young friends by forcing, touting and pushing these documents upon them.

I was privileged to sit on the Standing Committee which dealt with the indecent displays legislation which, unfortunately, was lost due to the fact that the February 1974 Election overtook it. During the protracted debates in that Committee, those who opposed the Bill assured us time and time again of their sincerely held principles that they vehemently opposed all forms of violence but, with that, they were against all forms of censorship. If you look at some of these journals, then those two principles are incompatible in relation to hard porn. There was also the popular theory that publications and the media had nothing like the influence attributed to them, and were unlikely to influence the mind of anyone or any serious activity on their part. If this were truly so, my Lords, then The Bible and The Koran would have made no contribution to the great religions, and would have had no impact on world opinion. Also, the hardheaded businessmen who are today pouring out millions of pounds on commercial advertising on television would be wasting their money, because it would be having no impact on the customers they were seeking to solicit.

True, in terms of the whole country the distribution of the more aggressive porn is limited, but it is rapidly increasing in its availability to the young, to the impressionable, and to those most vulnerable. I am not concerned with the "girly" magazines containing mainly pictures. And I have no doubt I should be shot down in flames if I dared to suggest what I believe to be true—that the majority of Members of your Lordships' House have probably never wallowed in 50 or 100 volumes of really hard porn and the type of disgusting journals that are being circulated, except for those who have done so in the course of their duty either when studying for legislation or carrying out inquiries by the clergy, or under the auspices of such a committee as that which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, presided over, or who indeed have had to deal with the seamier cases within the law. But I had not appreciated the extent of this type of literature until some words of mine in the Standing Committee were rather widely reported in the Press. Immediately I had an avalanche of evidence sent to me from headmasters, from parents and even from young boys and girls who had not dared show their parents that they had had this sent to them unsolicited through the post. One noble Lord today referred to the addict being a pusher. I would agree with him, because many of these magazines offer three free issues or a reduced subscription if readers introduce two of their friends and get them on the mailing list, in the pushing manner of their circulation. Young people who had received this literature and who were frightened to tell their parents lest they might not believe that they had not solicited it, brought it to me and sent it to me for the purposes of the Committee of which they knew I was a member.

I should like to cite one particular case. A widow with a young daughter, greatly distressed by events that had taken place the previous week, came to see me and virtually this was the story. The mother had allowed the daughter to go out with what she thought was a nice young man living down the street. They had gone to the cinema. The young lady had then pressed to be taken home, as she honoured a time limit her mother had put on her getting home. She was swept into a newsagent and confectioner's shop where a journal was purchased quite easily and openly. It was handed to her, and she was told to read it and "get educated". The mother found her daughter, trembling and sobbing, going through this pictorial journal; and although it may not be quite as classic as the quotes from Romeo and Juliet made by the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, I think there is one item of many similar ones that I saw which should be expressed or summarised to your Lordships' House.

It was not the photographs which were so objectionable; in many cases it was the alleged readers' columns, where they gave of their experience and added their advice. Also, some of the specialised articles, one of which, in the journal given to this young girl, covered the merits of birching before love-making or intercourse, of constriction and of thonging. If any parents maltreated a teenage daughter to the extent recommended in these articles and these letters, they would be regarded as brutal and inhuman and would be charged by the police. Yet vicious young men could boast that though their girl-friend had been a bit shy, slow and immature they had obtained excellent results by caning her; or, in another case, after tying leather thongs round the most delicate parts of her body, restricting the normal blood flow and then releasing it, the resultant pain of restoring the circulation had, said the young man, achieved fantastic results. I showed three of these journals to a friend of mine, a consultant gynaecologist. He was someone full of compassion and with great experience of some of the more deprived areas where, in his younger days at any rate, he knew all the horrors and tragedies of back-street abortions and various forms of maltreatment. His opinion on the danger and the horror of this journal, regularly published and very easily available in London, was of the nature that Members of this House will appreciate.

My Lords, at this moment we have a headmaster charged with giving "two of the best" across the backside of a recalcitrant pupil, and the very people who will complain that that is an infringement of civil liberties are the same people who will say that pornography does not create and encourage violence, and is of no danger to the young. It is about the influences on and the danger to the young and the immature that I am concerned—and the age range is quite wide. The range is between the young girl who matures early, is full of herself, perhaps brought up in a home with brothers older and younger than herself, and the far more mature girl, perhaps three or four years more mature than a young and later-developing girl, who may be the only daughter in a good home and who goes out into a society where this sort of literature, in some areas, will be pressed upon her because, in their words, she has got to educate herself and catch up. When we say that it has no influence, my Lords, ask any policemen who have taken in charge somebody accused of sexual assault what percentage of the dwellings of such people have a fine library of violent, pornographic literature.

I believe that our duty is very much to ensure that we give our young a chance to grow up decently and to support the overwhelmingly large number of good parents why try to do just that. I believe that the general and widespread undermining of the standard of social conscience and behaviour, particularly through literature, through films, through these little "blue" film cinemas and the like, is reducing our standard of living and the quality of our life. We have an increase in every single form of juvenile crime: dishonesty, theft and other minor offences but, most of all and more seriously, an increase in rape and indecent assault. I believe that indecent displays, indecent journals, some television films and pornographic literature have played their part in contributing to this situation.

I am sorry the Government did not see fit to introduce the Bill which was lost through the 1974 Election which at least went somewhere to help in this issue. I want to see measures taken so that we can prevent the debasement of human relationships in the context of men and women of today's society. I believe that much that we are allowing in the name of liberty now has produced a licence to undermine family life and to create instability within our society. I think that this is particularly true of those who come from deprived backgrounds. All right, the majority come from good homes and have had the background, experience and example of home. They can resist it, although not all do so. But those who are weak, who have not the parental support or discipline, those who may lean so much on someone whom they may think stronger and in their adolescence believe everything that they say to be right, can be influenced for wrong and evil and harmfully affected. We protect the handicapped, we go out to seek and help those who are not mentally as substantial as others. We protect the people who are ill, maimed or in other physical danger, I believe that we must add our contribution by some means, such as suggested by my noble friend Lord Nugent in his opening speech today, in order that we shall do justice and accept our responsibilities to the younger generation.

6.3 p.m.

The Countess of LOUDOUN

My Lords, freedom of choice is a fundamental right in a free society, choice of television, choice of newspapers, of where we live or where we shop. Choice weakens freedom and yet strengthens it. It is an attack and a defence at the same time. The cost of this freedom is almost freedom itself. The freedom to walk about with a transistor radio blaring your favourite programme is the loss of someone's peace and quiet. The freedom to "do your own thing", that ugly catch-phrase of the permissive society, means living without consideration for others, just a euphemism for self-interest. All is secondary to the pursuit of self-gratification—"If I want it, it must be right and it must be good." Clearly, the right to choose a way of life that infringes on the rights of others must be controlled by law. Law defines and defends the individual liberty of all, and in this process that enables us to live as individuals in a group we must accept some restriction on liberty. This compromise is something we learn to accept from childhood.

If it were possible to define clearly where pornography begins and art and literature ends, we could perhaps hope for some clear legislation. Failing that, it would be rather too hopeful at this point of time to attempt to prevent the sale of pornographic material altogether, or even to attempt to restrict the actual output of pornographic material. What we could do, and I think the country is looking to us to do something, is to introduce some legislation that will prevent those adults who choose pornography from interfering with the rights of others who choose to do without it.

If I could ask for some immediate legislation, it would be to wipe "the dirty face of England" by doing away with indecent displays, to cleanse our streets, our public places, stations and corner shops of the filthy flood of pornography. I should like to see a very heavy tax on this industry. Washed outside, taxed inside. We consider smoking harmful, many would consider it proved beyond any doubt; therefore, wisely I would think, we tax it severely and control advertising. The exploitation of the desperate need of the homeless brought its Rachmans, its land sharks, its laws and its taxes. At least an attempt was made to protect the individual. Nothing is perfect. We can but try, and try we must. To go to the cinema to see an erotic film is the expression of deliberate choice. Those who are disgusted by such films can simply stay away. For my part, I disapprove of such films but accept that it is impossible to legislate against them at present.

But those with the keenest interest are not philosophers or philanthropists, they are producers who have made fortunes out of filth. They are like jackals, feasting on the dead body of the good society that we had. I should say that their heart is where their treasure is. Their god is Mammon. They are not working for the benefit of society; they are not in the game to protect freedom but for financial gain.

As Jean-Claud Davy, producer of the film "Exhibition" and other pornographic films, says in an article in Paris-Match, speaking of his triumphs: We have found a new star, the sexual organs, and it is free. My Lords, it is not free. Society is paying very dearly for it. Anyone who remembers the country as it was, must agree with me that its standards of public behaviour were the admiration and envy of the world.

The strip shows that flourish in London today, the "blue" films, the provocative advertisements and the pornographic magazines, were once part of the excitement and the shock of foreign travel. As a woman I sometimes feel myself an involuntary spectator at some lewd and disgusting game, a game in which women are displayed and degraded for male pleasure and male profit. I meet so many men who say, "There are some people who go in for this sort of thing…", so many magazines, so many films, so many customers. Where are you?

Human weakness and frailty is something we share. The wise person will acknowledge his weakness. He may say, "I don't look at such things", but within himself he will say, "I daren't look at such things," because he recognises the danger. The reformed alcoholic will refuse a drink, the one-time smoker will refuse a cigarette. Acknowledging his weakness and not giving way to it, is his strength. I think it would be wiser to accept pornography as a malaise we can all catch. Education and upbringing do not bring immunity. The important thing is to do away with the hypocrisy. We are the adult readers, and we must hope that our children do not become what we are. We must try to give them that freedom of choice that we had so that they can, if they choose, do without this filth and live in a better society.

6.10 p.m.

The Duke of NORFOLK

My Lords, I should like to start by saying how lucky we are to have the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, with us. It was quite clear to me that he will be able to add to our debates in the way that we all expected.

I should like to return to one or two fundamental principles in what I have to say, because we must base this debate on these things. All religions and philosophies, however diverse, consider man to be a very sophisticated being and his destiny to lie in achieving a highly civilised life. We Christians believe that this is the fulfilment of God's purpose and that it involves taming, controlling and subjecting our animal instincts with our minds to achieve a higher life. When we see how sex fits into this picture, it is clear to all who have thought about this that sex has a very important purpose, which we fulfil by using it to create the family, and indeed, to love those who we do love. Sex achieves its ultimate end in the family, and sex is misdirected when exploited for ephemeral and carnal pleasures outside family life. Let us be clear that a family has three components so far as sex is concerned—a husband, a wife and the children—and the misuse of sex, its prostitution and its waste, affects everybody within the family. If it destroys the family, it destroys a very important part of civilisation.

I see that the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, has left the Chamber, but I must say that it is very hard for me to understand the distinction he makes when he suggests you can do anything you like in private and it is only in public that it matters. What we have been talking about today is the display of pornography in films and the written word. That is something which we meet in public and which has an immediate effect upon the private life of families. Does anyone seriously believe that with the pornography now being shown in this country, it is healthy for their sons to see it and indulge in it? My Lords, would you give your sons and daughters a course in what can be obtained by going into those shops concerned with these things? I have only been in and come out again and have not read the literature extensively, but I have seen them during visits to Paris, Germany and Copenhagen. We all know that if a person is subjected to those things, it has a bad effect on the family.

I would go further: I have spent a long period of my life in the Army, soldiering round the world, in command of a body of men with whose lives I was intimately connected. I am referring, for instance, to a battalion; and when I was in Germany and also in Port Said (that famous place for pornography), the temptations of the bad life were always available. But one achieved a good battalion and a successful body of men if one could direct their minds to the constructive and Christian values of life. Therefore one did one's level best to limit the incidence of the bad elements in their lives. I think it is nonsensical to suggest that this open display of filth is anything but corrupting.

I am not asking for Victorian prudery, because that kind of restraint is something that nobody could take nowadays; but where there is such an open display of pornography this results in sadism, bestiality and violence. It is an insult to man's dignity. It tempts the weak and the irresolute to debase their lives. I believe that when one talks, as the noble Viscount did, about prohibition, the point is being missed. Prohibition was an attempt to prohibit all consumption of intoxicating liquor. We are not suggesting anything like the prohibition of all sex. Prohibition in America tried to prevent the drinking of all liquor, but what is allowed now in America and in our own country is the proper consumption of liquor; and we try to discourage drunkenness. In the same way, I would maintain that this free display of pornography is misconstruing sex and ending in great tragedy.

Perhaps I might give your Lordships two illustrations from my own short life which are relevant in this context. I spent two years in Africa with the King's African Rifles, and was frequently in the tribal areas of the Samburu and the Turkana. The attitudes of those tribes to sex, which had been evolved by their tribal laws, were the most moral one could imagine. Their laws and customs were to the effect that sex should be limited to a boy and girl meeting each other and then raising a family. The idea of a pornographic misuse of sex for the wrong reasons was totally alien to their tribal laws. Going to the other extreme of my experience, I spent years with the Russian armies in East Germany, with a Mission that we have there, and I can assure your Lordships that the Communist laws and customs concerning sex are more puritanical than anything we have seen in our Western civilisation, even during the most puritanical times. I am not saying we should want to have that, but I am saying that the Soviet State believe that if they restrict sex to the bare minimum they will get more output from their workers.

I will conclude by saying that it is high time this Government looked again at the Obscene Publications Act, which I think is being circumvented in every possible way and which is being used as a lucrative business to make money for firms and people. It is not being misused by people who are trying to corrupt our nation: these people are taking our nation for a ride, not for the sake of corruption but solely for the purpose of lining their own pockets. That is why it has reached the extreme point that it has.

I believe this debate has covered a very, very important sphere of activity and that we need to look very much further into the need for revised legislation.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, I am among many of your Lordships who feel very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, for having initiated this debate today. It has certainly had one extremely happy effect, in that it enabled us to hear the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carr, which was, as we all expected, an extremely mature maiden and we all hope that we shall have many further opportunities to hear the profound knowledge of legal and moral matters which he displayed today.

This has certainly been a very necessary debate. I am sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, is not present, because I intended to tear some strips off him, and as he is not here I shall refrain. I can only say that his speech made it very evident that there is a great gulf between his way of thinking and mine, even wider than that which lay between the rich man and Lazarus. However, he must think his way and I mine. Among other things, he said that pornography is here and we must be realistic. The phrase, "we must be realistic", always seems to mean that we must mentally shrug our shoulders and do nothing about it. I do not hold that view. I was very sorry at lunchtime to hear a noble Lord say: "It is no use opposing pornography; it is here and it is a source of money." But, my Lords, so are many other things. Burglary, armed robbery and drug trafficking are all sources of money. Are we just to allow them to exist, without doing anything about them? No, my Lords, pornography is particularly harmful in that it does so much harm to the population as a whole.

I shall deal chiefly with films today. First, there is the problem of defining obscenity, which many noble Lords have mentioned. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, made some very constructive remarks about that. One could also add that it is that which is capable of corrupting. Some have said that it may corrupt some and may not corrupt others. That, again, is a counsel of defeat. If it is capable of corrupting, if it is intended to corrupt, if it is the product of a corrupt mind or if it is something which, done in public, would be contrary to the law of common decency, then surely that comes under the heading of obscenity.

I knew that if I spoke about films somebody would get up and ask whether I had ever seen any of the films which I was condemning, so I decided that I had to go and see one. I chose one which was mentioned to me as being particularly bad, and which is known as "Emmanuelle". It was an experience that I do not want to repeat, and I am very glad it is over. But I want to emphasise that there was nothing crude about that film. It was not just a piece of schoolboy dirt, or something from the other side of the Atlantic which is just nonsense—obscene, but not to be taken very seriously. It was a beautifully produced film, with excellent acting and sonic of the scenery was enchanting, the story being set in Thailand. But the expression of absolute rapture on the faces of those who were engaged in sexual union was enough to draw anybody who had no very firm principles off the rails at once. Incidentally, I was interested to look around and note the audience. They were chiefly young men of between 20 and 30, and some of them had brought their girl friends or wives with them. What they made of it I cannot think, because there were constant scenes of lovemaking, with completely nude women, and it left one with the impression that that is the only worthwhile thing in life and the only interesting way in which to spend one's time. There was one unfortunate scene where there was a bit of homosexuality between two women, which I thought was unfortunate. I was very glad when I came out.

It has been said today that one can choose to go into a cinema or stay out, but the point is that cinemas are there and those who go in are not aware of what they will see. We must all remember the characteristics of youth. When we were young, we hated to be unlike our contemporaries and if we saw them doing something, in spite of the fact that we may have thought it was slightly questionable, we wanted to do the same thing at once so as to be in the swim so to speak. Very much the same is true today. Many of these young people go to see these films largely because it is the thing to do. But when they come out they will not be quite the same as they were when they went in.

I was absolutely shocked to see the number of X films that are being displayed. As I walked around Leicester Square looking for the cinema I wanted, practically every one had an X film and every theatre had a play of an equivalent nature. That day, the Evening Standard gave a list of four U films, 18 A films, 15 AA films and 35 X films. Your Lordships will probably know that an AA film cannot be seen by anybody under the age of 14. My noble friend Lord May-bray-King referred earlier to the necessity for protecting children, but surely at 14 years of age one should not be allowed to see a film which has an AA certificate. The secondary film at the cinema to which I went had an AA certificate, and that was the story of a photographer who spent his entire time taking photographs of nude women. They were all there for one to see, with nothing whatsoever hidden. But that is the kind of film which a child of 14 can go to see—with what result, I do not kno.

I understand that cinema owners say the reason is that they are finding it very hard financially and that this is the only kind of production which will draw in the public. What a reflection this is upon our public at the present time! The dreadful aspect is that they react upon each other: the more these films are shown, the more people will go to them; and the more people go to them, the more they will be shown. It is a vicious circle.

I believe it was the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, who asked what harm this will do, and he tried to distinguish between what he called "sin" and "crime". But he did not realise that sexual violence often leads, as has been proved by those who have carried out research, to actual physical violence towards the public. Therefore, the two are not unconnected and it is doing harm. And even if it is not doing harm, it is leading towards a thoroughly degenerate society. When a country's society becomes morally degenerate that country can be wiped off. It happened with Rome and if we are not careful it may happen again with us.

There are a number of legal aspects which need to be looked at, about which I have received representations from the Festival of Light. There was a certain film about which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Widgery, expressed the opinion that the distributor of the film—that is to say, the maker of it—was guilty of transgression of the laws of obscenity, but that charge was denied at the trial. Apparently, the situation now is that the distributor is under no charge of obscenity since the only person who will look at his product is, presumably, the cinema manager himself. That seems to me to be rather unsatisfactory and it is one way in which the law needs to be strengthened.

I should like a much higher age limit to be introduced before young people can see any of these productions. It is often said that nowadays the young are much more mature. Probably that is so physically, but I do not think that is the case mentally. They are just as easily swayed either the right or the wrong way, and this kind of production very definitely is swaying them the wrong way. One sees obscenity everywhere, and unfortunately in not trying to prevent it, parents are not adopting a very responsible attitude. This is not altogether their fault because it is very difficult to prevent obscenity. Nevertheless, I should like there to be a much higher age limit which would prevent young people seeing these productions.

6.35 p.m.


My Lords, this House is now one of the few places in this country where seniority counts. Most of us belong to a generation which has been pensioned off, and we miss the young people in this debate. Would it be impertinent of me to ask how many of the noble Lords and noble Baronesses who are on the list to speak in this debate are under 50 years of age? The clouds of pornography hang over your Lordships' House, reflecting the pessimism of the older generation about the future of Britain.

Is has been a depressing experience for anyone with liberal views, a spark of vitality and the spirit of hope, to listen to the drooling pessimism to which we have been subjected this afternoon. The older generation have always had unfavourable views of the young. They are always afraid that they will he corrupted and become decadent, but when there are times of national peril where are they and what do they do? We should be ashamed of ourselves if we throw this reflection upon the young people of this country who need the cosseting and the protection of the older generation to aid their entry into adult life.

And where are the women? This is a woman's question as well. Two noble Baronesses out of 22 on the list spoke in the debate on 21st April 1971. Today there are four noble Baronesses on a list of 24 speakers. Why is it that men seem to brood over pornography? Why is it that much of the pornography that we can buy is in a magazine called "Men Only"? Why are not the women protesting? Why are not they proposing that if men want to make a beginning to the suppression of indecent displays they should ban the competition for "Miss World", which is perhaps the biggest and most looked at indecent display on television? But, No. When some members of the Women's Liberation movement protest by going in to stop it physically, it is they who are treated as criminals, not the exhibitors of that programme. Is it because, as they get older, men acquire a more mature sense of responsibility, or is it a sense of guilt that leads them to study this matter so deeply, so long, so persisently?

Of course we are obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for introducing this debate. It is more timely than perhaps he realised because only yesterday a Bill, to which I shall refer later, was introduced in another place under the Ten-Minute Rule procedure, and we are on the morrow of the publication of the Law Commission's Report. We congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, on his maiden speech and, if I may respectfully do so, I thank him for sitting through the debate for so long and so patiently. I am a little sorry that his maiden speech was largely a rehash of the speech he made in moving the Second Reading of the Cinematograph and Indecent Displays Bill in 1973; and I am the more disappointed that he did not get here in time to take part in the discussions on the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill, because the noble Lord has considerable experience of unworkable legislation.

The debate has been plentiful in moral judgments and of the evil in our midst, but weak on practical, viable, acceptable and enforceable changes in the law. The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, trotted out at great speed the most revolutionary set of proposals to deal with this problem that I have heard so far.

The Earl of HALSBURY

My Lords, I am so glad the noble Lord thinks them revolutionary. I might even join his Party one day when the tumbrils are rolling.


Yes, my Lords; so revolutionary that we never make any headway with them. Goodness me! when the Government cannot compel the tobacco industry to put on cigarette packets the Government health warning but have to get it done by voluntary arrangement, what chance does the noble Earl stand of getting by law a notice on shops "Pornography shop", and other proposals that he made? I do not want to be offensive to the noble Earl because I have great affection for him, but I must say that much of what he put forward was "crackers". Study it tomorrow in the Official Report, my Lords, and see.

The Earl of HALSBURY

My Lords, as a contribution to contemporary politics even pornographers could, under my scheme, forfeit their deposit.


Yes, I know, my Lords. Well. I am not forfeiting mine. I do not want to dwell on the substance of this matter about pollution of the mind and other things that come so easily to the lips of many people, nor do I want to suggest that if the Festival of Light had anything to offer it has been very slow coming through in this debate today, because as a matter of fact very little light has been shone either on the moral issues or on the practical way of dealing with malpractices.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, has hardened a little, if I may say so, since he spoke in the debate on the 21st April 1971. I do not blame him for that. After all it is five years ago. But then he said: And this brings me to the conclusion, which may not be a popular one, that I am doubtful whether we shall be able to deal with this matter satisfactorily by changes in the law. He went on to say: I am inclined to think that when Government, we in Parliament, are satisfied that the majority of the nation want a move made, probably the right move would be to set up a censorship authority responsible for the whole range of artistic, literary and dramatic expression."—(Official Report, 21/4/71; col. 684.) I have referred to that again because it has cropped up in a Bill introduced in another place only yesterday.

I want to deal with the question of legislation because at the end of the day there has to be a Bill. I do not claim to be a lawyer, but I do claim to have had some experience of legislation and of drafting Bills and of interpretation, and I think those who propose new or amending legislation should have something practical in mind. There are some options before us which have been given in the course of the debate, and offered in another place in two Bills introduced under the Ten-Minute Rule procedure, and that is why I am going to analyse the several proposals that are made for changing the law. I am going to begin with the Cinematograph and Indecent Displays Bill of 1973. This is the measure which the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, said should be reintroduced—or something like it. The purpose of that Bill was to extend the obscenity laws to deal separately, as he said, and specifically with a new offence called "indecent display". Clause 6 of the 1973 Bill said: If any indecent matter is displayed the person making the display shall be guilty of an offence". Although in the Concise Oxford Dictionary the word "indecent" is synonymous with "obscene" it appears to be regarded by many people as being a little less dreadful than obscenity.

The 1973 Bill drew a clear distinction between "obscene" and "indecent" by omitting important lines of defence against charges of indecent display. What it proposed was that the person charged would be brought before magistrates, with no right of trial by jury. It would be no defence to plead that the display was for the public good or had literary or artistic merit. They were serious changes in the law of obscenity. This weakened the defence in a case of a charge of indecent display as compared with the position of the defence on a charge of obscenity. The word "indecent" was made the substantive word in the Bill: no definition was attempted and the prosecution was to be under no obligation to prove that the offending material would tend to deprave or corrupt those into whose hands or under whose gaze it might fall. The 1973 Bill therefore proposed harsher measures to deal with indecent displays than with obscene material.

Moreover, the alleged offender was to be open to have material summarily seized by a constable and to be open also to private prosecution. The noble Lord, Lord Carr, said that his Bill in 1973 had a large measure of approval. He seems to have overlooked the keen debates and Divisions that occurred during the Committee stage of that Bill, and no liberalisation of those proposals proved possible during that Committee stage. When it appeared in its final form, ready for the Report stage which it never had owing to the intervention of the General Election in the early part of 1974, a writer, Mr. Mervyn Jones, in the New Statesman, described it as: A nasty, absurdly irrelevant, politically motivated, badly drafted and potentially dangerous measure with the clumsy title of the `Cinematograph and Indecent Displays Bill '. I am not going to repeat those words: I quote them from a contemporary writer in the New Statesman at the time. But the Bill of course never reached its final stage. Had it done so I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Carr, that the Parliamentary Labour Party would have opposed that Bill on Third Reading; there is no doubt at all about that.

I mention in passing that the spokesman on Home Affairs was Mr. Roy Jenkins, the present Home Secretary, who has said that he does not propose to reintroduce that Bill. That decision was confirmed to your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, in reply to a Question on the 12th February of this year. That decision was made by Mr. Roy Jenkins, who had much to do with the preparation and formulation and the passage of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and who knows this subject very deeply and has concern on the matter, as well as liberal views. The only speech that has been made this afternoon with which I wholly agree was that made by my noble friend Lord Stow Hill, another former Home Secretary, a lawyer of great distinction, a man of liberal views and of enormous common sense. I respect his views and his experience.

My Lords, I turn now to more recent events. Under the Ten-Minute Rule procedure in another place, leave has been given to two Members to bring in amending Bills. My noble friend Lord Stow Hill referred to the one which Mr. Rees-Davies, QC is to introduce. He says he wants to revive the indecent display section of the Bill of 1973. But he wants to go further, and has written to The Times to say so. My noble friend Lord Stow Hill quoted one part of his suggested formula for dealing with this matter. Mr. Rees-Davies wishes to remove from the 1959 Act the words, "tends to deprave and corrupt", and to substitute, "any material shall be obscene if (1) it grossly affronts contemporary community standards of decency, and (2) the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole (a) appeals to depraved instincts or (b) portrays violence to a repulsive degree". There is a packet of ambiguity. What problems of interpretation for juries and the courts. Mr. Rees-Davies would retain the defence plea that the material complained of was in the public good, but he would not allow that plea to be entered until after the jury had decided whether or not the material was obscene, and only if the jury had said the material was obscene then, and at that point only, would the defence be allowed to enter a plea that it was for the public good.

Now I come to the events of yesterday. In another Ten-Minute Rule Bill—the reformers are busy just now; something must have turned them on—Mr. Tim Renton proposes that things should go further still. He would remove from the 1959 Act any definition or test of the meaning of the word "obscenity". He would get rid of that altogether. He would leave the plea of public good where Mr. Rees-Davies would put it; that is, after the verdict of the jury on the question of obscenity had been reached, and not before. Then he offers a special committee to advise the Home Secretary on prosecutions and to advise publishers, authors, booksellers, and the rest, on whether this committee would consider a particular article obscene. In the contemporary conditions of today. I have no doubt that that committee would be known as the Obscenity Board. Its chairman would be paid £16,250 a year; all its part-time members would receive £1,000 a year. It would pontificate from time to time in the interests of the British people upon what it considered was obscene, and what it considered was not. But who are these archangels who would be put on the Obscenity Board? Without entering any plea for myself, I would say that nothing short of a Companion of Honour would be fit to be the chair man of the Obscenity Board. Mr. Tim Renton also proposes to limit the freedom of the Press. This is heresy. In your Lordships' House, this is blasphemy. He proposes to limit the reporting of judicial proceedings in cases of obscenity in the same way as the Judicial Proceedings Act 1926 restricts the publication of divorce proceedings. So we bring into this matter the freedom of the Press.

In order to bring this review up to date, I refer to the report of the Law Revision Committee, which was published yesterday. This deals mainly with films, which I am not embracing in my speech for the moment. It proposes to put films within the meaning of the Obscenity Act 1959, as I understand it, but not to give them the benefit of the depravity and corruption condition. They would be put under the provisions of the Theatres Act 1968, which gives live shows a line of defence on grounds of art and drama.

To sum up, what is proposed, with all the options so far, is a stiffer law on obscenity and a new and altogether harsher law on indecent displays. That is a recipe for the cleansing of the minds of the young of Britain—and this in the centenary year of the trial of Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant for publishing a book advertising the use of contraceptives within marriage. Reviewing a book written by Roger Manvell on the celebrated trial in the Sunday Times last Sunday, Christopher Hollis wrote: The problem of corrupting literature is still with us. We have not yet discovered, and probably never will, a formula for what should and should not be permitted that commands general acceptance. It is now evident that some people want to get rid of the proviso in the 1959 Act that the prosecution must prove that the offending material would tend to deprave and corrupt persons likely to see or read it. Reference was made to the weakness of the existing law, and a plea was made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield, that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney General should more energetically enforce the existing law. But the number of convictions under the 1959 Act has risen from 92 in 1966 to 251 in 1973. There were 434 prosecutions in 1974.

My Lords, there seems to be no doubt as to the general line of attack on the existing law. It is to weaken the defence, to make convictions more likely when cases go to the jury. Mr. Rees-Davies would substitute a long-winded version of the test of obscenity, and Mr. Tim Renton would take it out altogether and leave it to the jury, those 12 good men and true, about whom I will have an observation to make shortly. The Conservative Government's Bill of 1973—which the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, would reintroduce—created a new code of indecency within the criminal law. We all know the charges against indecency and obscenity; we have heard them so many times—that they are offensive and disgusting. They shock, they embarrass, they arouse lustful desires and may he bad for the young. Impressionable people would be susceptible to the allurements of sexual activity. Even older men may be interesed in obscenity and in indecent displays. I do not know whether they could be corrupted by it, but even men who are past it perhaps would not mind being titillated a little by looking at indecent displays. Let us be honest; let us not pretend that we are all so pure and undefiled that we do not have the normal sexual instincts of men who indulge them in all sorts of different ways.

The question is whether we impose sanctions, including the criminal law, on the behaviour of others. As soon as we do that, there arise questions of individual freedom, of civil liberties as well as the infinite difficulties of definition and interpretation, not to mention the problems of enforcement. I know that many are disappointed with the failure of juries to convict in some notable cases that have been taken recently. So they propose to stiffen the law by loosening the test of obscenity. They say that the test of depravity and corruption is breaking down in some cases, so they want to change the rules. I think those who want to carry the war even further believe that "obscenity" is too strong a word to catch some of the mischief; so they want a lighter weapon, and they want to call it "indecent display", with no explanation, no definition. Well, why bother to define "obscenity" or "indecency"? As the noble Earl said, when you go to the zoo and see a camel you cannot describe it, but you know it when you see it. The assumption is that the average British citizen recognises indecent display when he sees it. That is the underlying suggestion, and that juries are the people to say whether they see in the indecent display what the ordinary average decent citizen should see. And to make the good work still better, the idea is to keep the right of private prosecution and let that hang over the bookshops and the booksellers. A little intimidation might clean them up no end, unless, of course, they are in a protection racket.

My Lords, new crimes breed new evils and problems of enforcement. We deplore the rising tide of crime, so we propose to add to it. Burglaries go unsolved, violence unpunished, fraud and corruption go undetected, the motor car is now almost above the law along with the trade unions. We are short of police; they have new and dangerous duties connected with IRA activities. But, no matter, indecent display must be made a crime; more work for the police, the courts, and more rackets. That is what it all means, and my noble friend Lord Stow Hill said as much. I say this with a very full responsibility of what I am saying; it is not the "girlies" that corrupt the police, it is the bribes. When matters of taste are made a crime the commercial profits of evading or defying the law become so great that corruption is inevitable. My noble friend Lord Stow Hill said that we are blackmarketing this stuff at double and treble the price, and there will be all sorts of protection rackets for which people can pay large sums of money.

Those who advocate a tightening up and extension of the prohibitive law must bring enough evidence of positive harm to society, to public and private morals, to justify further incursion into the liberty of the subject. It is not enough that people may be shocked or embarrassed, or even disgusted. The public mischief must be positively more harmful than that. I personally find the whole apparatus and aura of the law in these matters of morals and taste most unacceptable and dangerous. This field of squalid preoccupation with sex, with its prudes and police and its courts and its juries, some of which are prejudiced and some of which are bent, repels me. It is riddled with intimidation and corruption and is absolutely capricious in the disposition of justice. Respectable booksellers have been intimidated and some have been ruined by persecution and prosecution.

Beware of those who, full of good intentions and genuine concern, demand that something should be done about it, without demanding, straight away: What? Come clean—it may be the only clean thing in it—and say what you would do. Do not leave it till tomorrow, and do not say it is a matter for further consideration. The options are all there; the definitions have been put before us—even the numerous proposals of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury. The cure can be worse than the disease. The noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, made this point very clearly. I went a long way with him. He represents a younger generation in your Lordships' House, and how refreshing was his approach to this matter. I parted from him only when he began to turn back on himself in the last few minutes of his speech. That applies almost to the noble Lord, Lord Soper. It seems as if one defines one's principles, one points out the dangers, one does everything possible to warn people against the dangers of amending legislation and all the consequences of it, and yet, in the end, the tendency is to say: "But something should be done."

My Lords, I know I am speaking for quite a long time, but this debate has been a one-sided debate and I hope your Lordships are patient enough to listen to the opposite side of the case, because mine is equivocal, and very few noble Lords who have spoken so far have been unequivocal on this matter. I am finishing. I am going to quote now from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, whom I had hoped to see here this afternoon. When he was speaking on behalf of the Home Office in the debate on 21st April 1971, he said this (col. 750): I incline to the view that in questions of morals we should be reluctant to have recourse more than necessary to penal sanctions. The purpose of the criminal law is to prevent positive harm, and it is undesirable to extend its ambit, particularly when problems of definition are bound to introduce very subjective considerations. The noble Lord is not here to say whether he holds that view today, but I certainly do. That is my parting word to your Lordships' House, and I thank you for listening to a long speech.

7.7 p.m.

Viscount INGLEBY

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, that I am under 50, just. I thought he was a little unfair to the ladies of this House. We have heard one lady who has expressed herself very strongly this afternoon, and I shall be rather surprised if the ladies who are still to speak do not also express themselves strongly.

My Lords, one sometimes hears the view that a little pornography does no harm. The difficulty is that it is apt to grow; it creates its own appetite. Another difficulty is that there is no logical stopping point. I know, from having sampled a little of this material, what a harmful capacity it has on one's relationships. It has a capacity for harming healthy relationships between husband and wife, between parents and child or between friends. And your Lordships may have noticed recently that there have been a number of divorce cases where the wife has said that it was the reading of pornographic magazines that caused the husband to behave in an unreasonable way, to make unreasonable demands on her. There is also the very sad case of a young man who, when he was a boy at school, got hooked on this material. Now he is at university, and his mother said that she believes he has gone past the point of return. It is a powerful force: it can take control and it can harm one's personality—I am quite sure of that—in just the same way as drink or drugs.

We have heard a certain amount this afternoon about freedom of choice. Of course we all like freedom, but we must exercise our own freedom in a way that does not harm others. In this country, of course, we are very fortunate; we have had freedom of speech for a very long time. But one wonders whether those people who have suffered for freedom of speech would want to be lumbered with a defence of pornography. What we are really talking about, is it not, is freedom of unscrupulous commercial interests to exploit and debase human beings? If this is not the unacceptable face of capitalism, I do not know what is.

I think it was Montesquieu who said that the survival of democracy depends upon virtue. "Virtue" is not a word about which we hear very much these days, but surely one of the components of it is self-control, and pornography seems to me to be just the opposite of that. In fact, I would suggest most realistically that pornography is one of the enemies of democracy. Someone said that the easiest way of destroying a country is to destroy its morals.

What is to be done about this situation? I shall not go into the various alternatives, the ways of defining obscenity, that have been mentioned this afternoon. I would only say that once we have a clearer definition of obscenity then much wider use could be made of Section 3 of the present Act, which allows for confiscation by the police. I feel that this is the only way to deal with the flood of material that is about at the present time. This in fact was the only remedy available under the old 1857 Act. The other point which warrants consideration is the right of jury challenge which exists at the present time. As there are usually three defendants in these cases this allows for 21 challenges to be made, and very effective use is made of this in order to secure a young all-male jury. I would submit to your Lordships that this pornography is an evil which can harm personality in the same way as drink or drugs.

7.12 p.m.


My Lords, owing to the kindness of my noble friend Lord Barrington, I have been allowed to take his place and he is going to take mine later in the debate. I am not certain whether I should speak in this debate because I know very little about the subject. I dislike pornography intensely. The last pornographic film I saw was "Last Tango in Paris"—I was horrified not only by the actions but also by the language in the film. I think that I have only read two really pornographic books—one was Lady Chatterley's Lover (some people would not think so, but I thought it was terrible) and the other the famous Fanny Hill, which belonged to a friend of mine who kept it under lock and key, and I had to read it in his library and in his presence. This was really a historical book, which was the reason I read it. Otherwise my experience is when, as a young married woman with a child, a young man who was engaged to one of my younger sisters gave me a paper covered book (I cannot remember whether it was written in French or English) and I was extremely shocked. I later burnt it. I am glad to say that he did not give it to my sister: he is long since dead, as is my sister, and the marriage never took place. I must admit that I have also seen a completely pornographic library, again kept under lock and key. I was horrified and did not understand very much of what I was shown.

My reason for speaking this afternoon is in the hope that certain alterations in the Act, or a new Act, could be brought in, so that the ordinary person, and our children and grandchildren, would not be offended by the display in our streets, or on the news stalls, of papers which contain horrible advertisements. I personally am worried that I cannot find a suitable film to which to take a young grandson, and I do not like letting him go out to the nearest bookstall to buy what he calls his "comics", and for him to return with a paper about which I may have to explain something, which is not only full of horrible illustrations, but if he should look at the advertisements and feel inclined to answer them he might get a reply which would be not only disgusting and altogether horrifying but could put ideas into his head. I must add how much I dislike what I have always called "dirty words". I have only once used a dirty word in public, but then I am very old. I remember long ago in the United States being taken out by a man who used the word "bloody", and I walked out on him until he was prepared to apologise to me—autre temps, autre mœurs.

I come back to the content of this debate. I agree that we learn from our thoughts, attitudes, and activities what is pornographic and what is not. To suggest that pornography may be instrumental in initiating sexual interest and orientation is far from proven. While book learning does affect us, its effect is to influence character which already exists. The learning of sexual interest in the early years of life is acquired at an unconscious and emotional level from parents and siblings. I suspect that the most that sexual material can do is to minimise, creatively develop, or overemphasise what already exists in the human character. People are drawn to what they like already, though it may not be consciously thought out.

Therefore, I should like to see a radically different approach, thus: for the moment leave out the word "pornography" and talk of sexual material. Recognise that the need for sexual material by the general public is perennial; the demand has always existed and will go on existing. The main issue of contention at the present time is "public nuisance", not a dispute on the right of individuals to read what they want. To meet this question of "public nuisance" a parallel case can be drawn with the Street Offences Act introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, when he was Home Secretary. Such an Act in the area of sexual material would forbid the public display of sexual material and would require that it be sold in recognised shops or areas of shops, with restrictions on age of entry, et cetera. They would be forbidden to display material in windows, et cetera. The Act could incorporate a charter for advertising of all kinds, including cinema hoardings, which is one of the most awful illustrations. I do not travel on the Underground very much and I do not see that advertising, but I do see it in the West End outside cinemas. If required, the Act could give the Home Secretary power to designate sexual material as obscene, et cetera, if it fell in certain categories which he would specify, and to restrict their sale to such shops. It would be at this point, and not before, that the more restricted area of pornography and obscenity within sexual material would be defined.

If this approach were taken it could control pornography while not making it illegal. We would take pornography off the streets, while accepting that, like prostitution, it is part of our society. Within this framework, sexual matter can fulfil a variety of functions from the therapeutic through to the salacious, but would all be held within the framework of the law. One practical consequence would be to reduce the amount of soft porn available to children from bookstalls all over the country. I am sure that there are some snags which I have not foreseen, but these thoughts on the subject, your Lordships may find worthy of your consideration.

7.19 p.m.


My Lords, at the beginning of this debate I was greatly influenced by the excellent opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, followed by the noble Lord, Lord Soper. I found myself almost entirely in agreement with their views and feelings. On the other hand, I am also influenced on the other side by the noble Lords, Lord Stow Hill and Lord Houghton of Sowerby, above all because they brought in the question of the corruption of the police, which I think could be one of the great dangers of legislation. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will, when replying to the debate, refer to this danger. In other words, my position is that although I share the views of the noble Lords whom I have quoted about the undesirability of the present state of affairs and, above all, public displays, I am nevertheless a little worried about the question of legislation, what form it should take, and whether it could possibly do more harm than good. I hope that before any such legislation is enacted there will be opportunities for very full discussion.

Coming nearer the material which I wish to present, I suppose that we would all agree in defining "obscenity" that it includes the degrading of the sexual act, which should really be one of love, by putting it on a line with lust, sadism, cruelty—especially cruelty to and degrading of women—and, of course, promiscuity. When the noble Earl, Lord Longford, raised this question in the debate on pornography on 21st April 1971, I was bold enough to quote certain passages from the Old Testament and although I shall not detain your Lordships tonight by repeating everything I said on that occasion, I want to go into this question a little further because it is something that any Select Committee or legislative body trying to devise legislation must take into consideration. I am the first to agree that the Old Testament is a work of art and literature and is an absolutely unique and invaluable work of history worthy to be in every library, to be read there by serious-minded people and especially scholars. My question is: Is it fit to be in every child's bookshop? My answer is in the negative. I will not repeat all the quotations, but the examples which I gave on 21st April 1971 included almost everything that I have included in the possible definitions of "obscenity"—degrading of the sexual act, lust, sadism, cruelty and cruelty to women, and promiscuity. As an example of cruelty I quoted from the passage after the defeat of the Midians. Moses rebuked the armed men who had killed all the Midians and said: Have you spared all the women?… Now kill every woman who has had intercourse with a man, but spare for yourselves every woman who has not had intercourse…". I quote from the New English Bible. That does not seem to be a very good thing for young people to be reading, but perhaps I am a prude. I regret that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has walked out of the Chamber. He did that when I last spoke and I was not surprised, therefore, when I saw him leave the Chamber tonight. I wish to tell your Lordships the sequel and, if he were here, I am sure that the noble Earl would have been interested to hear it. I asked the noble Earl if I could give evidence before the committee which he set up to examine the question of pornography and, after the greatest difficulty, he said that I could meet some of them; obviously they could not meet everybody who wanted just to give some oral evidence, and I was satisfied with that. I met seven or eight people, nearly all dressed in clerical raiment of one kind or another, and I put it to them that some of these passages were definitely obscene. I quoted especially the one from the Book of Judges, Chapter XIX, which I think is particularly revolting. The men of the town knock at the door of an old man and demand that he sends out his guest to them so that they can have intercourse with him, so perversions come into it as well. No, my friends, says the old man, do nothing so wicked. Here is my daughter, a virgin; let me bring her out to you. Rape her and do to her what you please: but you shall not commit such an outrage against this man. But the men were not satisfied so the guest took hold of his concubine and thrust her outside for them. They assaulted her and abused her and finally killed her, and her master cut up her body limb by limb into six pieces. I do not think I need comment as to whether that is suitable literature for young people. But the sequel has not quite finished. One of the eminent gentlemen I met said to me, "But there are, of course, all sorts of good things in the Old Testament"—and, of course, there are. He said, "All the stories in the Old Testament have a moral and a lesson" and I asked, "What moral and lesson do you derive from that?" and he replied, "It teaches hospitality". This shocked me so much that I was almost sick on the spot, and when I told the noble Earl what had been said to me, he replied, "He could not possibly have been serious". If he was not serious, it makes it the sickest of sick jokes I have heard in all my life.

I am simply trying to point out to your Lordships the absolutely conflicting standards which we have over this whole subject and to beg that if the matter is seriously considered, if legislation is contemplated, and if definitions of "pornography" or "obscenity" are attempted, the question of the Old Testament should be very seriously considered and not brushed aside. Above all, the question whether it is suitable reading for young children is the one to consider because of course nobody will ban it from the serious adult reader, the historian and the literary person.

7.28 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for initiating this debate, which has come at a most opportune moment with the publication of the Law Commission's Report. I also thank my noble friend Lord Carr of Hadley on his maiden speech in this House. I appreciate that he has spoken before in the building, but not in the House of Lords. We could not have had anyone better to speak on this subject, my noble friend being a former Home Secretary.

I rise to speak on this issue because, like many others, I have become really tired of the obscene filth with which the British public has been bombarded for the last 12 or 15 years. I am convinced that if it goes on—and the amount of pornography appears to be increasing—it will, if it has not already, affect not only the morals but the morale of the nation. When we ally that with perhaps a too indulgent Welfare State which is inclined to take the responsibility of decisions out of the individual's hands, it does not require a great deal of imagination to visualise one day the destruction of our society. For example, only three days ago I was speaking to a young soldier in Scotland who told me that he had been married twice, that he was only 23 years of age and that he had six children. I said that that appeared a most irresponsible act and he replied, "It's quite all right. The State will take care of us." I agree that that has nothing to do with pornography, but I thought that I would tell the story.

We have plenty of lessons in history to warn us against a surfeit of pornography. I was interested to hear my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk say that his experience in Communist countries was that pornography and obscenity were kept very much under control. I should like also to point out that, after the Bolshevik revolution and during the early years of the Soviet regime, the teaching of Karl Marx and Lenin allowed free love and complete freedom in sexual matters. For quite a period, the Soviet regime encouraged free love and freedom in all such matters. However, the Government had to reverse that trend and to come down on the other foot because they found that the fabric of society was being rotted and that the whole country was becoming over-run by hordes of homeless children who had no parentage. That became a great problem.

We have heard much in this debate about the definition of obscenity. Of course, the apologists for pornography always make the excuse that we have the 1959 Act. But the Act is not strong enough in its definition. However, I cannot believe that it is beyond the ingenuity of human beings to work out a definition that will be strong enough and that will stick. The other day, I was reading John Stuart Mill's essay on liberty. In that essay he says that, in his opinion, it is not Parliament's duty to interfere to stop the individual from harming himself. I cannot agree with that. After all, we prevent the individual from harming himself with drugs. Drugs of course affect the body and the mind. We also stop the individual from harming himself in various other ways. However, the really important thing is to see that he does not harm others. Therefore, I really cannot agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, who, I see, has now left the Chamber. The noble Viscount made many excuses for the continuation of pornography. One was that many people who are abnormal have to have pornography. I wonder whether the noble Viscount has ever thought that the reason why these people are abnormal and have to have pornography may be that they were influenced and initiated into the desire for it as a result of the fact that we do not have strong enough laws to prevent individuals from harming others by introducing them to pornography. I am thinking in particular of unsophisticated people. By that, I do not mean only children, though children are of course extremely important. By the unsophisticated, I mean that there are a great many people who may not have had a very good education or who may not be very mentally alert. Such people can be far more harmed by uncontrolled pornography than can better educated and wiser people. I was very pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, quoting Professor McClintock on the connection between violence and pornography. We all know that they go together in many cases. I have known one or two instances of young people's lives being utterly ruined by the avalanche of pornography which we now have in this country. It debilitates them mentally and makes them lose all sense of what are the real, valuable issues in life. They often end up with no values at all. I believe that it is the greatest evil of our time.

Another point which the apologists always make is that the restriction of pornography infringes our liberty. On the other hand, one could also say that it is an infringement of the public's liberty when, if they go to a public place or a cinema—though of course they do not have to go into the cinema, so that is not a good argument—they have to see extremely unpleasant posters. I have just been handed an account of one but I do not feel that I can read it out in your Lordships' House because it is so foul. I feel that that is an infringement of the liberty of the subject. It is true that one finds quite a few such posters torn and mutilated by members of the public who object to them.

Section 3 of the Television Act lays down that there must be nothing in programmes, which offends good taste or decency or is likely to be offensive to public feeling. I have seen plenty of programmes on television and they have not adhered to that obligation. It is surprising that there is not greater control over this. We have just had the Law Commission's Report and I am extremely pleased to see that they have said in particular that films and cinemas are to be brought within the Obscene Publications Act, though of course the Act needs strengthening.

Regarding restrictions which are supposed to be for the public good, it has been put forward by many people—indeed by nearly every speaker—that the public good should be limited to art. I used to draw a lot as a young man and, though I do not want to boast, I drew quite well. However, limiting it to art could open the way to matters which may have nothing to do with art at all. One has only to go round the Tate Gallery and see some people's idea of art. It is quite amazing. The Press is also at fault. Though I do not want to increase its circulation, page 3 of the Sun carries a photograph every day which I would call obscene. It has one or two other such pages also but not so regularly, but page 3 always appears to have this type of picture which I would call an obscene photograph.

I recall something which a journalist friend of mine, who worked for the Daily Mirror, told me. I am not saying that the Daily Mirror publish obscene photographs. The friend told me, quite a few years ago, that the Daily Mirror ran an experiment to cut out photographs of near nude girls, and the circulation of the paper dropped by almost half a million in two weeks. Therefore the pictures of the nude girls had to be resumed. I can quite appreciate the difficulties of the Press in this matter, but I have always understood that it is the duty of the Press to uplift the public, not to play down to them.

I am sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, is not here at the moment. I do not want to attack him, but he said that if we legislate against pornography we will drive it underground. There is a certain amount of truth in that, but not a great deal. For example, it is not possible to drive advertising posters underground. No one would nay a large sum of money to have a poster hidden away underground because nobody would see it. So the noble Viscount is not quite right there. This is not like prostitution, much of which can be driven underground. I recall the Act dealing with street offences, on which I spoke several times, which was put forward by the then Mr. Butler, now the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden. That Act was very successful. Indeed, it was far more successful than anyone had imagined, because it cleared the prostitution off the streets. It removed a great feeling of aggravation from people who might be out for a stroll with their children.

I hope that we shall reverse the trend in the United Kingdom of what one can only say is becoming moral enfeeblement. I sincerely hope that Her Majesty's Government will lose no time in acting upon the advice of the Law Commissioners, and will produce a Bill to eradicate this evil and undiluted pornography from our society. We have heard talk about the corruption of police. In fact very few of the police are corruptive. But surely it would be better to have a few police corrupted than to have thousands, or even tens of thousands of young people corrupted. I end on this note. It is our young people who are the future of our nation, and I have seen instances where I think they are beyond recall.

7.42 p.m.


My Lords, it is a pleasure to support the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and all those noble Lords who have spoken in his support. Of course it is very difficult to define obscenity, to say in precise terms of what it consists. But in your Lordships' House we have a Standing Order which forbids asperity of speech, and I have never heard a noble Lord venture to define what that is. We simply know instinctively what it is, in the same way that we recognise obscenity when we see or hear it. Indeed, so much is this so that, although we have a Standing Order that forbids asperity of speech, we have none that forbids obscenity, although I cannot imagine that any noble Lord would indulge in it in your Lordships' House, nor, indeed, would Members in the other place. In short, my Lords, we have what might be described as an unwritten code of conduct, but we cannot say that we do not quite often see it transgressed outside. I was very struck when listening to Radio 4 on Sunday night, to the programme "Desert. Island Discs", in which a former lady's maid said in reply to the interviewer, with regard to the help she was having with her autobiography from a ghost writer, that she would have no reference to sex or scandal. She was quite right.

In London today it is impossible to go down certain streets, especially near Piccadilly Circus, without having one's eyes assailed by flashing lights intended to call one's attention to suggestive films, which show men and women in various stages of meretricious nakedness. Prostitutes may no longer be a public pest in Piccadilly, but in the advertisements for certain cinema films and theatres, in certain shops, and on certain bookstalls, there is what is no less than a deliberate attempt to prostitute the mind, which the late Stuart Cloete, who died last Saturday, describes so well in his novel The Abducters, which discusses white slavery in Victorian society.

It describes how a decently brought up young girl had her mind deliberately corrupted by pornographic books and pictures, while shut in a room alone. Might I suggest that your Lordships might care to read pages 137-8 for yourselves. The quotation is far too long to read here. In case your Lordships should think that I am out of date, and that such views went out with Queen Victoria. I might say that the book was brought to our notice by our own children, who are perfectly well alive to these things, and are horrified and disgusted by them. For myself, I can only say that I agree with a statement made by one American to another in the spring of 1972 at Heathrow Airport. The statement, which I overheard, was to the effect that London was far worse than 42nd Street, New York, which I have seen for myself. I felt ashamed.

My Lords, I have just returned from Jerusalem, from which I was able to tour all around Israel. Knowing that the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, was about to be debated, I looked around carefully, from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, and from Galilee, via Haifa, to Askalan, for any signs of public obscenity. There are absolutely none. I asked some Jewish friends there, and I was told that someone had tried once and had been stopped, and it is now completely forbidden. In supporting the Motion of the noble Lord to strengthen our law, I suggest that that is an example we would do well to follow. But, my Lords, I did not need to go so far afield. My friend, my butcher, said to me on Monday, "From all that I have seen and heard, I do not think that I would really care to take my children to London." I think he speaks with the true voice of decent British people.

7.48 p.m.


My Lords, those who in similar debates have spoken previously on this subject may have a feeling that we have been here before. At the moment we may also have the feeling that we are going to be here all night. In thanking the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for introducing this subject, and for doing it so admirably, I will relieve him by saying that I intend to say nothing new at all, except to stand up, rather as the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, did, to assure anyone in the House who is interested that I still take the view that I took previously. I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, said.

There have been only two unpredictable events tonight. One was the admirable maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley. I call it a maiden speech. It would be a little ungallant to call it an "Elderly Maiden" speech. Perhaps I should call it an "Elder 'Statesmaiden'" speech. I hope that we shall hear the noble Lord frequently in future. The other event was the speech by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, whom I have heard speak on scientific subjects much above my head, and whom I used to hear in my school days: who said so well and vigorously all the things I should have liked to say myself. He even succeeded in putting over to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby (who has just resumed his place) a point of a revolutionary kind. I was extremely interested by this speech. However, I do not know how far one would regard as practical the revolutionary suggestion of a Worshipful, or Unworshipful, Company of Pornographers, which should be confined to pornography, and who should have to admit that they were such, but I think these things are well worth thinking over in addition to other suggestions.

The only other speech to which I want to refer is that of my noble friend Lord Norwich, who I am sorry is not here. This is not a Party question, but, nevertheless, I tried very hard to find anything in his speech with which I agreed, having heard him on this subject before. One thing with which I did agree was that we ought to be very careful not to confuse crime with sin. "Sin" is an unfashionable word, and when I think of it I sometimes remember the young man in Bernard Shaw's play who said. "Don't talk to me about sin; I don't believe in it", to which the elderly Irish doctor answered, "No, and perhaps you do not believe in disease, but both exist; and they are both facts one has to take into account". Sins, of course, vary, like other things, being in fashion or out of fashion. I think every generation has its own favourite sin. I think that, with the Victorians, avarice may possibly have been carried to such a considerable extent as to make it respectable. There is no doubt that the sin which we like to think of as the most respectable is lust in its different forms, including some very odd ones.

I think the great danger that we are in now—and this is a point which the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, made—is in allowing entirely well-meaning writers on this subject to gloss over some of the facts about it and really make us believe that it is the only thing in life that is worth living for. Once any sin comes to be regarded as something to worship, I think it becomes dangerous. The criminal law comes in when it is a question of inciting somebody to commit a sin. Anger and hatred, I think, are deadly sins, but they are not sins punishable by law. On the other hand, inciting somebody to anger or hatred was made a criminal offence, and I think rightly so, though people said it would not work, by the Race Relations Act. It is for this reason that I believe that it is wrong to think that it is unnecessary now to introduce legislation of some kind; wrong to think, or to think without a lot of further thought, that it is impossible; and quite wrong to think that it is undesirable.

As to the necessity, I think almost every noble Lord who has spoken has emphasised the point that pornography has increased on such an amazing scale in the last few years that we must take it more seriously than we have previously taken it. Just as, in my childhood, bombs in peace time were things that happened only in Bucharest or Budapest, then one heard of them in Belfast and now one has them in Bayswater, the thing is getting nearer and the time to deal with it is before it becomes impossible. As to the impossibility on the question of definition, I remember, in a previous debate, quoting the late Professor Housman, who was asked to define poetry and said that he could no more define it than a dog could define a rat, but he thought that they could both recognise it by the symptoms it produced. I still think that that comes as near as anything else that I have heard to an understanding of it; but it is, of course, as many noble Lords have pointed out, the matter of what people think is obscene which the law has to take into account.

I would give one example of the fact that we are not really such an extraordinarily "fuddy-duddy" and out-of-date generation, even the oldest of us in this House, in thinking that lust in its different forms, some less attractive than others, is an extremely dangerous thing which needs to be kept under control. The noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, in an admirable speech putting the opposite point of view, quoted as an example of something which might be thought obscene a delightful speech by the nurse in Romeo and Juliet. Of course, if that is taken as good advice to a young girl, one would not agree, any more than one would take Lady Macbeth's advice to her husband as good advice on court manners when royalty comes to stay. But I do not think that that speech, which was a character speech, is one which could incite anyone to any obscene act. I would find it difficult to believe that

As Shakespeare has been quoted, I should like to quote a few lines which are not put into a character's mouth but which occur in one of his sonnets. They express his point of view very strongly, I think. Some of the actual words have been used, for instance, by the noble Lord, Lord Soper, in talking about obscenity. Shakespeare begins by talking about "lust in action", which he calls: The expense of spirit in a waste of shame I think "expense" is an important word, because I have heard the argument put up that we should not waste our time legislating about pornography when inflation has to be dealt with. But I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, that there is a sort of spiritual expense, even in privately-conducted lust, which is a thing of which everybody has to be very careful.

Shakespeare goes on to make some much more caustic remarks about what I shall call incitement to lust. He says, after speaking of "lust in action", that, Till action, lust Is perjured, Murderous, bloody, full of blame, Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust; Enjoyed no sooner but despised strait; Past reason hunted, and no sooner had Past reason hated, like a swallowed bait On purpose laid to make the taker mad". Why "On purpose"? What purpose could anyone have in putting this bait before people? I think it has been brought out that there is a certain financial gain from putting these kind of temptations in front of people. To put it baldly, it is possible to make money out of selling pornography; it is much more difficult to make money out of simply not selling pornography. So I think that is relevant.

Shakespeare goes on finally, after some more accusations of a very outspoken kind, to say: All this the world well knows; but none knows well To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell". My Lords, none of us knows how to shun this particular evil. I do not think anybody in this House—certainly, I am sure, not the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, or the noble Lord, Lord Soper—would claim that we could abolish unpleasantness of this kind altogether. What we are trying to do is to discourage it, or at any rate not actively encourage it. My final feeling, having heard I think most of the speeches tonight, is that unless we actively discourage it we shall be encouraging it, because it is one of the fashionable vices which otherwise, like the omnibus to which the Archbishop of Canterbury referred the other day, is likely to run away with us.

7.59 p.m.


My Lords, noble Lords will no doubt be relieved to know that I do not think I shall speak more than 10 minutes, but from what I have heard of the debate I do not see any reason to depart from what I was originally going to say on the subject. So first let me say that it is not a subject on which I am anxious to speak, but as I did so on a previous debate I feel I ought to do so again today. I hope that my record in this House has been one of trying to express a common sense point of view. Nevertheless, on nearly all important issues—and this perhaps more than most—opinions must in the ultimate be influenced by a philosophy of life. In today's debate I will exclude any religious bias from my remarks; my thesis will rest on the admittedly rather broad concept of the dignity of the human race and what most people feel is right or, alternatively, undesirable. Before leaving the philosophical approach, I would say that sex can be divided into two levels. First, the pure love between men and women in which sex finds its highest approach; secondly, what I would conveniently refer to as purely animal instincts—although I think this description could be criticised as being unfair to animals.

Most of us I am sure will agree that the second level of sex is undesirable although individually, of course, we combine some proportions of the two extremes. There are nowadays a few people who openly advocate sex as a plaything to be encouraged in its widest context, even in the very young. They have no regard for the dignity of the human being and they fail to realise that, just as with drink, there is no stopping point to desire unless some control is exercised. Many of them, in fact, seek a moral justification for what they want to do to quieten their own consciences. The time-honoured way of doing this is to convince others and to get them to follow you. There is also another school of thought which believes in the complete freedom of individuals to do as they choose. Strangely enough, they are usually the people who are most against freedom in other areas. They overlook such facts as the commercialisation of sex, the effect of example, the curiosity and other side effects of the very strong sexual urge such as sex jealousy and the missing out on something.

Having said all this, I believe that the question of preventing, or at least limiting, the desirability of offensive and obscene material can be conveniently considered under four categories. I think that in the debate today very few people have clearly realised that there are at least a number of categories in dealing with this problem.

My first one is the visual which those who do not want to see cannot avoid. This includes posters, advertisements, displays on bookstalls and, to a lesser extent, television, because it is not always easy to turn off the set with others watching or even to leave the room. Secondly, the visual, which is easily available on request. The cinema, the theatre and magazines on bookstalls are the most obvious examples of this category. Thirdly, the harder visual porn which is now usually under sealed covers and includes full visual presentation of copulation and oral sex, sex parties, bestiality and other perversions. Under this category may be included the cine clubs. Their repertoire varies depending on what escapes the Customs. The fourth is various reading material. This is the most difficult to deal with and possibly the most pernicious. It is readily available and encourages the belief that sex in any form is the norm and consequently saps any innate desire to resist. It should not he necessary to prove that this is true. The burden of proof is on the other side. They would have to show why normal methods used in education are effective while this sort of presentation has no effect.

My Lords, the question is, what should be done? Few, I think, would disagree that those who do not want to be confronted by obscene visual material should be protected. That is the first category that I mentioned. Another obvious measure would be to increase the time necessary to become a member of a tine club showing "blue" films which is now, I think, two hours, to at least a day or preferably a week. This would tend to confine those seeing such films to people who really wish to do so.

I am, however, greatly concerned with the spread throughout the country and the increasing obscenity and numbers of magazines available on almost every bookstall. These now show fully opened leg positions from every angle, obviously inferred copulation or oral sex and female masturbation. Unless something is done, this will undoubtedly continue on a downward course. I think it is a pity that more Members of this House do not apprise themselves of what exactly is now so readily available and who only speak in terms of principle. If they wish, I will give to the Librarian a copy of a representative magazine which is readily available.

With this we should also have to tackle the theatres and cinemas. I see no reason why we should not bar complete nudity and simulated sex of any kind. Perhaps a list of what would not be permitted would be the easiest approach. I believe that the police advocate this course. There might be some overriding clause under which those who wriggle round the specific bans could be brought to book if it was considered necessary.

I realise that my recommendation does not include written material which, in many ways, I think is more salacious. Whatever the Government may say, there are ways of doing this which might be reasonably successful. Nevertheless, if they are timorous I suggest that they start with my categories one and two dealing with visual presentation and test public reaction and not that of the extremist and theorist. We must remember in this that we cannot go further than the majority of the public would wish. I do not think that enforcement is difficult for the visual presentation but there is, let me freely admit, one problem and that is that of the porn shops. Why do we not close them?

If you think that the now sealed material should still be available to those who want it, then, no doubt, advertisement and the post would still provide an outlet. Alternatively, if you hold this view, why not license existing shops and prevent what is becoming a proliferation? Enforcement against porn shops in London has been discretionary—an intolerable temptation to bribery of the enforcement authorities. This point has been made already; unfortunately it has been made in the sense that we should not produce further legislation. In fact, the situation today is worse than would be possible under any legislation that we might produce. We cannot stand still as we are today. Even thinking as I do, it would be better if we refused to legislate, to authorise all porn regardless—which I think would be utter misfortune. We must face up to the difficulty today.

Regarding written material, I think we should wait and put this matter before a special committee. Finally, I must add that I am very tired of hearing the argument about art being an excuse for anything. We have heard this about science, and it simply will not go. I seem to remember that Petronius made an art of all the vices.

8.11 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of LONDON

My Lords, I, too, should like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for giving us the opportunity to debate this very important subject. I should also like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, for giving us one of the most distinguished maiden speeches I ever remember in this House. We are indeed very grateful to him. As I now go in as last man in this marathon debate, may I presume to remind the House of the ineffectiveness of the law in a certain area of social activity. I trust that we shall not allow ourselves to be diverted from the facts with which the law is here intended to deal. Whatever may be the reasons why the Obscene Publications Acts have proved to be powerless, the fact is that during the last few years this country has been flooded with a spate of pornographic material in the form of publications, films and stage performances and, for the most part, the law has proved incapable of stemming the flood or controlling the activities of its promoters.

Clearly there are a great number of people who appreciate the opportunity of buying this kind of material or watching such displays, for the porn trade is big business. There is big money to be made presumably the promoters would not go to such lengths to provide this stuff or to take the risks involved in doing so unless it was highly profitable. We know that there are also many who may themselves have no desire to indulge in what is offered, but who have a rooted objection to any form of censorship and control and who say that the only form of sanction should be what public opinion is prepared to tolerate and impose. But there are many others—and I believe them to be the majority of the people in this country—who regard the proliferation of, pornographic material as an outrage, who believe that its ready availability is deeply wounding to the well-being of society, who are revolted by the activities of the traffickers in this foul trade, and who are in despair at the apparent powerlessness of the law to control what the law admits to be illegal.

We who work in London, as the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, stressed, are particularly sensitive to these issues because it is here that the major part of the porn trade is initiated and carried on. Your Lordships will need no reminder from me that within a few hundred yards of this House one may walk down some of the main streets and find them placarded with advertisements for "blue" films or plays designed to excite sexual reactions. In Soho, street after street is full of striptease clubs or shops offering obscene literature and articles for sale; and this traffic is of course not confined to the centre of London. To most people it is a shameful business that this great city should be demeaned in this way and that its citizens should be humiliated and shamed by this blatant display of nastiness.

One does not wish to approach the problem in a spirit of prudery, but there are many who still retain a sense of decency and believe that the right approach to the human body and the processes of procreation should be one of reverence. They find the dishonouring and cheapening of the female sex highly distasteful and they believe, with the leading article in The limes after the Inside Linda Lovelace case, that this wallowing in sexual aberrations and unnatural practices inevitably leads to violence, to sadism, to hatred and to fear. We believe that we are entitled to the protection of the law to remove these harmful things, and we look in vain.

One of the most distressing features of the whole business is that the effects of these displays obviously cannot be confined to adults. They are there for young people and children to look at and assimilate. Whatever view your Lordships may take about the desirability of preventing by law access by adults to certain material, I think it is unlikely that this House would abrogate its responsibility for protecting the young from influences which may be harmful. In this area, the law is woefully failing in its responsibility. Clearly, the Obscene Publications Acts have misfired. The Preamble to the 1959 Act states that its purpose was: To provide for the protection of literature and to strengthen the law against pornography. The 1964 Act similarly stated that its purpose was: To strengthen the law for preventing the publication for gain of obscene matter. Neither Act has achieved its purpose. Why have they failed? The Master of the Rolls stated in the Court of Appeal, in the case of the Queen v. Commissioners of Police of the Metropolis when they made known their views on the verdict in the case of the Queen v. Gold why the Acts had failed. He said this: I regret to say that it is in the wording of the Statute and in the way the courts have applied it. In the first place, the test of obscenity is much too restricted, or it has been interpreted too narrowly…. In the second place, the 'defence of public good' has opened a door through which many a pornographer can escape…. Finally… the major reason for their ineffectiveness in this matter lies in the framework in which the police have to operate. The Obscene Publications Act, 1959, does not provide a sound foundation. It fails to provide a satisfactory test of obscenity: and it allows a defence of public good which has got out of hand…. If the people of this country want pornography to be stamped out, the Legislature must amend the Obscene Publications Act, 1959, so as to make it strike unmistakably at pornography: and it must define the powers and duties of the police so as to enable them to take effective measures for the purpose. The police may well say to Parliament: 'Give us the tools, and we will finish the job'. Thus spoke the Master of the Rolls, and we should be saying today that Parliament should provide the tools whereby this scandalous state of affairs may be minimised and controlled.

How is this to be done? I believe that, as a first step, the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, with his immense experience in Home Affairs, is right in pressing for legislation that will remove displays of indecent material from public view. Such displays are deeply offensive to the majority of people, and harmful to those who do not possess the moral fibre to withstand their corrupting suggestiveness. Such legislation would not, of course, remove the root causes of obscenity, any more than getting prostitutes off the streets eliminated prostitution. But it would, so I believe, do much to elevate the moral sense of society, it would remove a scandal and it would bring to an end the process of gnawing at moral sensibility until we come to accept these displays as the norm, and to equate our own behaviour and toleration to the standards of what we see day by day all around us. I hope that such legislation would deal not only with placards and posters but also with books, magazines and newspapers which are displayed on bookstalls and in shops; and that the penalties for breaking the law would be sufficiently severe as to make the traffickers in this trade think twice before they offend.

But, my Lords, I do not think that driving the display of obscene material out of public view is enough. It cannot be right that there should continue to be on the Statute Book enactments that clearly are incapable of achieving their objectives. The Master of the Rolls has remarked that, whatever some may say, Parliament had no doubt that pornography was evil for, it has enacted laws with the express intention of stopping it. Having so far failed in its purpose, Parliament must have another shot. It surely cannot be beyond the wit of our legal advisers to find some definition of "obscenity" which is generally acceptable and easy to understand. That definition must avoid the pitfall of the present legislation in assuming the existence of evidence concerning the effect of an article which it is difficult to establish and about which evidence is very difficult to obtain. The reference to a tendency to deprave and corrupt presumes that people have been depraved and corrupted. How can you prove this, and who is going into the witness box to say that it has happened to him or to her? Whereas it is not difficult to produce witnesses prepared to swear that they have not been depraved and corrupted, and how can it be proved that they are wrong?

The new legislation must look very carefully at the safeguards provided by the enactment, lest they stifle the effectiveness of the law. That there must be safeguards, all would agree. But the defence in the present Act, that an article is for the public good because it is in the interest not only of science, literature, art and learning, but also "of other objects of general concern", has meant that what an eminent jurist has described as "a positive menagerie of so-called witnesses" have gone into the witness box to assert the value to other objects of general concern of the publication in question. That is not what Parliament meant in its desire to strengthen the law against pornography. But, above all, any new enactment must be such that issues can be placed clearly and unequivocally before a jury. Obviously, as the law stands now, the possibility of clouding the issues is so strong that juries are bemused and confused. The law should be such that a case can be presented in clear-cut and defined terms, and a jury be enabled to know what it is about which they have to decide. That is not so at the present time.

I am aware that what we are discussing is superficial to the basic issues. It will be pointed out that some people will always want to wallow in pornographic indulgence, that they always have done and that you will not stop them by controlling pornographic literature and displays. In other words, you cannot make people good by legislation. I take the point. But, equally, society has always claimed the right to control certain areas of human behaviour which it believed can be harmful to the common wellbeing. It controls some sexual behaviour such as incest, bigamy, homosexual behaviour in public and offences against children; it controls the consumption of drugs and of alcohol, and it has a right to control the publication and display of obscene material if, as many of us believe it to be, it is harmful to society. The difficulty is that in the present state of society there are no commonly accepted norms of moral behaviour to back up and to enforce the law. For centuries, the people of this country accepted the standards of behaviour inherited from the teaching of Judaism and Christianity and enshrined in the teachings in the Bible. There was a great deal of hypocrisy, a good deal of falling short of the standards, but they were there and they were generally honoured.

Now society has, for the most part, rejected the moral guidelines which controlled its forefathers. The crust of what we regarded as civilisation has been fractured, and we have discovered how thin, in fact, it was, and what ugly things lie beneath and how ready they are to well up and to break out. It is all the more difficult, therefore, to control them, because we cannot appeal to a generally accepted and honoured code of moral behaviour. But we must not be deterred from trying to do so. It may be that we have come to accept pornography because of its presence, and to minimise its seriousness. If so, we should do well to note some words of Lord Justice Phillimore: In my judgment it is high time its gravity was appreciated by the public. It cannot fail, especially in the light of the great volume of such material which is being put in circulation, to affect the morals and the moral outlook of many people, and in particular of the young and the impressionable. I believe that that warning is valid, and that the duty of Parliament to take action is obvious and urgent.

8.28 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)

My Lords, I would join with other noble Lords in welcoming this debate which was initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. Whatever the views of Members of this House on the issues of principle involved, it is right that these matters should be fully debated as they certainly have been today. There has been another cause for some gratification, and that is that this has been the occasion of the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carr. I think all of those on both sides of the House who hold the noble Lord in high esteem as a distinguished former Home Secretary were particularly pleased to hear what he said, even though, on one or two aspects of his speech which I shall come to later, I am afraid that I did not wholly agree with him.

The subject of this debate takes us to the centre of the dilemma about the role of censorship—because censorship it is—in a free society. It is a dilemma. In a democracy, censorship cannot be a desirable end in itself. One noble Lord spoke with some emotion about arrangements in an East European country where they have no problem of any kind, because of the total power of the State to control what is published in book form or newspaper form; but I am bound to say that I would far prefer to live in our society, with all its problems, than have the State exercising authority of that kind. The question which concerns us relates to the circumstances in which censorship ought to be regarded as a necessary evil.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, the noble Lord has used the word "censorship" several times in his opening remarks, so suppose that he lays a lot of stress upon it. Apart from films, however, we have no censorship in this country.


My Lords, I am going to deal with this point, and as I develop the argument I hope to carry the noble Earl with me. The question which we are discussing is the circumstances in which censorship—I fear that is the term which I wish to apply—ought to be regarded as a necessary evil. What we are debating is the balance between freedom of expression and the protection of society and individual members of society, a balance which each society has to define for itself and then redefine as social mores change.

There are, of course, many ways in which the law in this country seeks to interfere with freedom of expression. There are, for example, the law of defamation and the laws requiring information to be given to the Government which also protect the citizen from the disclosure of his confidences. But there is a fundamental difference between these controls and the control on pornography. In the case of pornography, the law seeks to protect man from himself. The issue before us is clear: how far should a free society use the sanctions of the law to interfere with the choice of the individual?

I will turn first to the legal test of obscenity. The legal test of obscenity was laid down not, if I may say so, as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London seemed to suggest, in the 1959 Act but in 1868 by Chief Justice Cockburn. In delivering his judgment in the Hicklin case he said that the test of obscenity was whether the tendency of the matter, is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences and into whose hands a publication of this sort might fall". That test was modified by Parliament in 1959, but the essential element of the tendency to deprave and corrupt persists. For over a hundred years, therefore, it has been recognised that the law ought to apply only where there was a likelihood of harmful influences, not where there was merely shock or disgust at the material concerned.

The present Statute stems from the pressure of 20 years ago to reform the law, still then based on the old common law of obscene libel. Let us be quite clear about this. The law at that time was in a profoundly unsatisfactory state. In some of the speeches made today there has been the implication that before 1959 we were living in some form of "Golden Age" where the pornographer and his activities were nowhere to be evidenced. Well, the situation was a little different from that.

As I am aware that many Members of your Lordships' House are dissatisfied with the state of the present law, it is, I think, right to spend just a few moments explaining the circumstances which led to a change in the previous law. That law had placed many hazards in the way of serious authors and reputable publishers. It had brought works of literary and artistic merit before the courts and had introduced a number of uncertainties which created an atmosphere damaging to the publication of a great deal of serious work. In 1954 alone there were five prosecutions of reputable publishers. Of these, two led to convictions, two to acquittals and one to two indecisive trials and a formal acquittal. In addition—I think many of us will recall the circumstances of this particular case—the Swindon magistrates ordered the Decameron to be forfeited, although that decision was overturned on appeal. Concern in the literary world about the way in which reputable publishers and serious authors could in this way be placed in the dock in a criminal court led the Society of Authors to set up a Committee, chaired by Sir Alan Herbert, to consider the law. The Committee produced a Report, together with a draft Bill, which was then introduced into Parliament by my right honourable friend the present Home Secretary. The central proposal made by the Committee, and that which remained the prime objective of those who wished to reform the law, was a strengthening of the protection given to genuine works of literature by allowing a publisher to bring evidence of literary or artistic merit before the court.

The Private Member's Bill was reintroduced in 1957 and committed to a Select Committee which took evidence from authors, publishers, the prosecuting authorities, the Home Office and others. The Select Committee produced a unanimous report recommending that the law should be reformed and the outcome was another Private Member's Bill, again introduced by my right honourable friend, which was subsequently introduced to give effect to the Select Committee's recommendations.

The Select Committee recommended that the test of a tendency to deprave and corrupt should be enacted in a new Statute. They reported that it was the general view of witnesses that although the meaning of the expression might be difficult to define with academic precision, it would be preferable to retain it in default of a better alternative. Despite what has been said today, I remain rather sceptical as to whether we shall easily find another definition which will obtain more general support.

As I have said, although the central test of the tendency to deprave and corrupt was re-enacted in the 1959 Act, the law made certain changes to protect works of literature as well as other changes to facilitate action against pornography. The new Act made clear that the work had to be read as a whole, instead of attention being directed to isolated passages. The issue before the court became the effect on the likely readership, as opposed to the effect on anyone into whose hands it might have fallen. And the defence of public good, with the right to call evidence from expert witnesses, was written into the law. At the same time and I must emphasise this in the light of what has been said in the debate today—it was made easier to obtain search warrants and the police were given wider powers in the execution of warrants. A further strengthening of the law against pornography was provided by the Obscene Publications Act 1964 which remedied some defects in the 1959 Act, which had by then become apparent, and widened the scope of the 1959 Act in certain respects.

Many noble Lords have argued that there are significant weaknesses in the law dealing with obsence publications as it now stands. The gist of the criticism is that the law is failing to deal with material which it is thought ought not to be made available. This criticism inevitably follows from the fact that prosecutions of some publications have been unsuccessful—as, of course, they were before the passage of the 1959 Act. Let me make it clear at once that I recognise the genuine concern that lies behind this criticism, but I think the House must recognise one difficulty which was touched upon by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield. The assumption behind criticism of a court's decision to acquit is that the book concerned was in fact obscene, as defined by the present law, and that the jury was wrong. But the jury would have reached their decision in the light of contemporary standards of acceptability.

The decisions of juries undoubtedly reflect shifts in public opinion generally, and that would have been true however obscenity may have been defined in the law. We have to accept that in the last two decades there has been a significant movement in public attitudes. The sexually explicit is no longer regarded as objectionable as it was 20 years ago. One indication of this (this was a point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard) is the content of our popular newspapers—and, while I make that point, the content of some of our quality newspapers as well. If one were to put the two side by side, I suspect that one would be extremely surprised at the change there has been in the character of the British Press during that period.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord for a moment, he mentioned the fact that decency has to be judged by contemporary standards. May I point out to him that contemporary standards are of a wider description today than they have ever been. They stretch from one extreme to the other.


That may be so, my Lords, but it is a matter for the jury, in the light of the evidence given in a case, to determine whether a particular book is or is not obscene, and I am endeavouring to say to the House that the standards they apply are very different today from what they were 20 years ago, and that would have been true whether or not the law had changed. In my view that it one of the most important issues put forward in this debate. That change, which is reflected in the Press, can also be seen so far as the content of cinema programmes and television programmes is concerned. I am well aware that to many people this is a profoundly distressing trend, but it has to be recognised that there has been this major change in public attitudes which I believe recent decisions by juries reflect, and in this situation we would be most unwise to assume that by simply changing the definition of obscenity we can ensure that people who are today acquitted would automatically be convicted.

It has been argued today that the laws of obscenity are wholly ineffectual. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London went so far as to say that we were powerless. But the statistics of convictions do not bear this out. In 1973, the last year for which figures are available, 251 persons were found guilty of offences under the 1959 Act. In the Metropolitan Police District last year the police seized a total of more than 200,000 articles when executing warrants under the Act. Moreover, there are of course separate controls—and substantial controls, I may add—on the importation of obscene articles. This point was raised in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Fawley. These controls are particularly important because hard-core pornography is material which generally comes into this country from overseas rather than being home produced, and last year the Customs seized a total of about 189,000 articles regarded as contravening the prohibition on the import of obscene and indecent matter.

But having said all this, the Government of course recognise that there is public disquiet. We also recognise the misgivings which have been expressed about the manner in which it is possible for pornography to be defended not on account of its artistic or literary merit but on the argument that any, or almost any, pornography is positively beneficial. All I would say on that is that there has been a decision by the Court of Appeal today which in my view is highly significant in this particular regard, and when noble Lords examine it tomorrow I think that at least some of their anxieties will be stilled.

More generally, I understand the difficulty in which publishers, wholesalers and retailers are placed because of the uncertain nature of the operation of the law. I understand their view, as a general principle of law, that a person should be able to establish in advance of a particular course of action, or the sale of a particular book or magazine, whether or not his action will bring him into conflict with the law. In a field where subjective judgment inevitably plays a large part this is a real difficulty, and as my right honourable friend has said in another place he is not convinced that there is any simple, workable and acceptable change in the law which could resolve this problem. However, he has made it clear that the Government will keep the matter under review, and we shall seek to establish whether there are ways in which the law might be improved.

I turn now to the second issue raised by the noble Lord, that of indecent public displays. This point in particular formed a significant part of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Carr. This issue raises considerations of a different kind. Whatever a person may be free to read if he wishes, there is no reason why the same material should be thrust upon the public in the street. This is primarily a matter of public nuisance. The Government are therefore not without sympathy for the view that there should be a limitation on public displays which are likely to cause offence to reasonable people. But to say that is not to solve the problem of translating the principle into effective legislative action.

I am ready to admit that the existing law in this field is far from satisfactory. It is based on an assortment of 19th century Statutes, going back to the Vagrancy Act of 1824, where the various provisions, are so confused, uncertain and antiquated that a revision seems overdue. These provisions are still used by prosecutors, although not on a particularly substantial scale. In 1973, 69 people were proscuted for the indecent display offences of the Vagrancy Act and the Indecent Advertisements Act of 1889.

The motives of the previous Administration in introducing the Cinematograph and Indecent Displays Bill were therefore wholly understandable, and my honourable friends in another place allowed the measure an unopposed Second Reading on the ground that there was virtually unanimous support for the central purpose of the Bill in preventing the gratuitous affront to the general public caused by the display of indecent material. However—and my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby referred to this—the detailed examination of the Bill demonstrated the severe difficulties of devising a protection for the public which did not at the same time cause absurd anomalies and an unreasonable extension of censorship.

The noble Lord, Lord Carr—and this is the only point on which I took, certainly not deep exception but some exception to his speech—pointed out, quite rightly, that there had been an unopposed Second Reading, but I think he slightly understated the criticism to which the Bill was subjected in Standing Committee in another place. Criticisms made were of a very substantial character indeed. The Bill made no attempt to define indecency, and it became clear that there were many views about the extent of the meaning of the word, and also whether the earlier interpretations of the courts were what was required for the future. There was also considerable uncertainty about what was meant by a display, and the extent to which the offence would be confined to those who sought to gain by the commercial exploi tation of indecent displays. Moreover, the Bill exempted from its scope art galleries and museums, but included public libraries; and it sought to cover advertisements for indecent articles even though the advertisement itself could not be regarded as indecent.

In short, my Lords, a harsh critic—and certainly one would not be a harsh critic on the occasion of the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carr—would say that the Bill very nearly fell into pieces when it was considered in Committee, and it is undoubtedly true, as my noble friend Lord Houghton said, that the then Opposition would have taken a very different attitude to the Bill when it came before the House at Report stage. I have made it clear, as far as our attitude in principle is concerned, that in these circumstances the Government do not rule out the possibility of reforming the law, and indeed we shall look carefully at the question in the light of the final conclusions, which we hope to receive shortly, of the Working Party on Vagrancy and Street Offences, which has been reviewing all the offences in the old Vagrancy Acts.

There are three other issues that I should like to touch on briefly. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, my noble friend Lord Longford and the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, raised the question of the Law Commission's Report on Conspiracy. As the House is aware, that Report was published yesterday. The Government are considering it carefully, and before we reach our conclusions we would welcome the views of all interested parties on the Report. My right honourable friend hopes to be able to indicate the Government's intentions as soon as possible.

The second point I want to touch on is that made by the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. This concerned various television programmes which the noble Lords had seen on either BBC or IBA programmes. As noble Lords will recall, there were Questions in this House on this issue, and they will be aware that the position is that the Boards of Governors of the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority have the responsibility in this matter. If Members of the House feel that a particular programme is objectionable, then they have an absolute right to draw the particular details of this matter to the attention of chairmen of those two organisations. That is in fact the way to proceed. The Government have no locus in this matter, and it would seem to me wholly inappropriate for them to intervene in day-to-day matters affecting the two broadcasting organisations. However, if noble Lords feel that either the Act or the BBC Charter has been infringed, they have the right and, indeed, I would say, the duty to draw this matter to the attention of the two organisations concerned.

A third point was raised by my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby; that is, the question of the police and the possible danger of corruption in terms of the enforcement of pornography legislation, or any change in the law. I am sure my noble friend Lord Houghton will appreciate the point that in the light of certain prosecutions now taking place, in my view this matter is clearly sub judice, and it is not appropriate for a member of the Government to make any comment on it, even though I understand the importance my noble friend attaches to it.

My Lords, the area we have been discussing today cannot be defined with any precision. There is no firm line between what is indecent and what is not, between what is obscene and what is not. Different people will always react in different ways. All judgments are necessarily subjective. In considering the extent to which material should be suppressed on grounds of its harmful effects, it is obviously desirable that we should have firm evidence about the possible effects pornography may have on the personality. The noble Viscount, Lord Amory, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, raised this question. Unhappily, very little evidence of this character exists. However, I should like to say something on the point raised by my noble friend Lord Houghton.

As there is a clear assumption, an assumption of the present law, that pornography can corrupt the reader, I am bound to say that I am rather worried about the proposal my noble friend raised, which is apparently appearing in a Private Member's Bill in another place, that some new statutory agency should be created. I do not know whether that will be called the Pornography Board, or some similar name. My noble friend said it was proposed that this board was to have, apparently, wide powers, and its members presumably would spend most of their lives reading novels which were pornographic. It would be an interesting laboratory experiment, it seems to me, as to what were the corrupting effects. Here would be a group of men, undoubtedly headed by a Companion of Honour at least, as my noble friend pointed out, who are to spend the whole of their lives, if Parliament were to enact this—which is a rather far-fetched conclusion—reading pornographic literature generally accepted by everybody as having a corrupting effect on the person who reads it. It seems to me a novel proposal but one for which, I am bound to say at an early stage, the Government do not have a great deal of initial enthusiasm. On the general question of how much research has been done on this problem—and this is an important point—some has been done. But it is not entirely surprising that both its design and the question of what conclusions can properly be drawn from the results have given rise inevitably to sharp controversy. It would be a mistake to think that this is a field in which meaningful research could readily tell us what we should like to know. In the meantime, the law exists on the assumption that there can be harmful effects, and on the basis that it is for the jury, or the courts generally, to use their common sense to identify that material which may give rise to positive harm. Certainly the police and the Customs authorities will continue with determination to enforce the present law on obscenity. For their part, the Government will examine with care any proposals for change put before us.

So far as indecent displays are concerned, I hope that we will receive the report of the Working Party on Vagrancy and Street Offences within a few weeks. We will then consider what measures are required to deal with the problem. The Government are in no way complacent about these issues. We recognise that there is public concern, and that is why my right honourable friend will study with care the proposals made in today's debate, together with those he will be receiving from others, in order to determine whether, and if so in what form, fresh legislative action is required.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, sits down, may I put two questions to him? First, I do not think his speech covered directly or indirectly any of the points made in my own speech. This is understandable, but may I ask him, therefore, to study carefully the constructive suggestions I made.

Secondly, would not the noble Lord agree that his view that the jury's findings represent the average feeling of the country on some of these questions is rather simplistic, bearing in mind on what they have to base their decision, which is that it has to be both obscene and corrupt; bearing in mind also the fact that there is an ability to challenge the jury, and that those who come for the defence form a bandwagon of very experienced people in defending these cases? Does he not therefore agree that it is a little simplistic to assume that a jury's findings represent the feeling of the country?


My Lords, it is quite impossible to say that a decision of a jury in any case, whatever form of criminal offence they are considering, represents a cross-section of the country. Of course it does not. It represents only the opinions of that particular jury.

On the other point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, I will gladly look into the suggestions he made. As I am sure he will realise, there were 24 speakers in today's debate, and my speech would have been very much more lengthy if I had dealt with all the points raised in all the speeches.

8.58 p.m.


My Lords, I quite accept that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, could not pick up every point that we have made in our debate today, but may I thank him for answering so fully. There is one point in his speech which I think I should take up, because it is absolutely crucial in assisting the noble Lord to understand what so many of us have been saying today. What he said—and he will see this when he looks at Hansard and reads his speech is that the law with regard to pornography seeks to protect man from himself. I think that when the noble Lord considers what was said today, and, when he reads the speeches, he will see that the main burden of them was our concern about the young. We feel that for children and young people to see and be exposed to all this pornographic material, especially much of the extreme material, is most dangerous to them. This is the absolute crux of our concern. Particularly I would commend to him the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, which was most cogent in this regard. Many other speakers made the same point.

Here perhaps I might turn to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. May I say that I appreciated that on his broad shoulders a considerable burden rested; that he and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, and indeed the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, who has gone, were the principal protagonists on the other side, and therefore they had a very weighty task to discharge. Therefore, if the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, laid about all of us I do not think we can really complain, because he had had to hear a lot of speeches in the opposite direction. But I think he was attacking the wrong target when he censured us because we were running down the youth of the country. We were doing exactly the reverse. Several of us roundly declared our faith in the strength and morality of the country. We are concerned about the moral tone of the country, the way we are moving, and the dangers we believe face especially the very young, who are too young to defend themselves.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton—obviously he is a very cogent reader of Hansard; I was flattered that he read my speech of 1971—when he comes to look at these speeches will see we were not running down the youth of the country. There was hardly a single attack on the youth. Maybe the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, laid about himself a little on the moral deterioration. I do not think, however, that he was attacking youth; I think the burden of my comment is right.

May I thank very much all noble Lords, and noble Baronesses especially, who have so splendidly taken part in this debate. It is not a subject that any of us much enjoy discussing, especially in public. I am grateful to the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, the noble Countess, Lady Loudoun, the noble Lady, Lady Ruthven, and, of course, my noble friend Lady Hornsby-Smith. They all made most notable contributions to the debate, and I think they got the stick laid about them rather more gently by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and redeemed our side somewhat from his general strictures. My noble friend Lord Ingleby was the only one who escaped because he is under 50, and I congratulate him on that. He made the shortest speech and quite one of the most cogent ones. It was a most valuable contribution.

I would congratulate most warmly my noble friend Lord Carr. I thought his speech was most cogent and most helpful to us, and the deep humanity of it must have appealed to the whole House. Coming back to the point that my noble friend was dealing with, the matter of public display of films, here we found ourselves on slightly more sympathetic ground with the noble Lord, Lord Harris. He said that the law was far from satisfactory in this field, and I was encouraged to hear that. It is, of course, this aspect of it which is most offensive. I have a horrible feeling that in order to get this right it is going to be necessary to get a definition in somewhere.

Indeed, he complained himself that indecency was not defined in this Act. The burden of our attack on the 1959 Act is that definition has been unsatisfactory, and the fact that it rested on the judgment of a learned Lord in the middle of the 19th century does not make it any better. It nevertheless has been used by defence counsel very effectively to confuse the minds of juries, and put together with the defence of public good it has most certainly allowed extreme pornographic material to escape. I am perfectly certain the noble Lord, Lord Harris, would not wish to stand up and say that the Linda Lovelace book is not pornography. If that is not pornographic, nothing is. This is really why we are so anxious. We feel that this situation is slipping. The reference to the 1973 figures is not much consolation three years later.


My Lords, with respect, they are, unfortunately, the last figures available.


I quite realise that, my Lords; but I suspect that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the police authorities in the metropolis are feeling far less certain today of their prospects for securing convictions than they did a year or two ago. The situation really is deteriorating. So, difficult though it is to find a better definition, difficult though it is to get a better balance in the 1959 Act, I do feel we should attempt to do it.

Here I should like to thank very much the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London for his superb winding-up. He may have been the tenth man at the wicket, but if he had not spent his life rowing backwards in a boat he would undoubtedly have made a century even when he batted tenth. He wound up superbly and made the case which many of us feel—not everybody is a Christian today, but many are and are influenced by it—that the moral fibre and the moral life of the nation really do matter, perhaps to everybody, not just to those who profess themselves to be Christians. I thank the right reverend Prelate most warmly for making out the case with such eloquence and cogency.

My Lords, we have gone on long enough. I again thank all noble Lords on all sides who have taken part in this debate. I think it has been a helpful, informative, and fairly representative expression of responsible opinion in this country about the dangers we face. Here I conclude with a word of praise, if I may, to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who is the leader in this field. Just how much he has done all of us know. It is a field where there are no rewards except ridicule. You have to be a bit of a hero to do what he has done. I should like to put on the Record my very warm admiration of what he has done. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.