HL Deb 25 March 1982 vol 428 cc1083-130

4.40 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill appears under my name, but I should like to pay tribute to my noble colleagues who have helped in the construction and drafting of it following our debate 15 months ago on the Williams Report, which was critical in this House. We felt we should try to put up a Bill which would be of some help in strengthening the law in this position. Of course, the result of the Williams Report was something impossible to draft into a Bill. in particular, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Halsbury. Most of the creative ideas in this Bill have stemmed from him. I should also like to thank our honorary and very professional draftsman, Godfrey Carter, who drafted the Bill for us.

The object of the Bill is to restrict pornography and, in particular, hard pornography. The recent debates on the licensing of sex shops produced a challenge as to why some of us wished to restrict sex activities and it was considered that this was an unacceptable interference of the liberty of the subject. The argument went that other human foibles like gambling and drinking are not prohibited but are only controlled. Why, therefore, did we feel this should go further to prohibition? I recognise that there is an argument that I have to answer and I will start my speech by doing so.

I believe that pornography by its method of exploiting human lust contains an extra dimension over drink and gambling in its threat to the life of the family, and stable family life is the basis of any stable social community. Pornography can be divided into soft pornography and hard pornography. The Bill is directed against hard pornography as material beyond the bounds of human tolerance, as the Bill says. The precise definition between hard pornography and soft pornography is difficult to make, but there is no difficulty in my mind in defining all pornography which deals with perverted sex as hard pornography. This material seeks to arouse human lust with displays of sodomy between men and women; lesbianism between women; homosexuality between men; and sadism, masochism, bestiality and child pornography.

All these sex activites, depicted in films and pictures, degrade women to the role of sex symbols and they degrade the normal sexual intercourse between men and women in an unpleasant way. All these imageries sow in men unnatural sexual appetites which turn them away from normal physical relationships between man and wife. The result is young men growing up with deformed sexual impulses and a growing number of marriages breaking up through the unnatural demands by husbands on wives.

The suggestion that this material could have a therapeutic value to disturbed marriages is the reverse of reality. This material is as far from the romance of a happy marriage as a sewage farm is from the open countryside. History tells us that all societies from primitive tribes to sophisticated nations always take strong action to check perversion. I suppose the most dramatic example in history was when the Emperor Constantine decreed in the middle of the 4th century AD that the persecuted Christian religion should become the official religion of the Roman Empire, because the corruption, vice and perversion of Roman life had degenerated to a point where marriages were falling apart and the virtues on which that great empire had been built were melting away. Traditional Mithraism was unable to check it. Evidently he and his advisers were persuaded that Christianity, with its emphasis on love and compassion, was the best prospect of reversing the trend.

I make the point because the fact is that there is nothing new in human lust turning to perversion and rulers acting to check it. What is new today is the large-scale production on national and international scales of this material. It is literally propaganda for perversion with the capacity to distribute its depraved material throughout the whole nation. This constitutes a far greater danger than nations have ever faced before in the history of mankind and therefore to the family life on which our societies are based. This is the justification for the law restricting the production and sale of pornography at some point, and the point I suggest is the point defined in the Bill.

The Bill has two new ideas. First, it has a new definition of pornography which aims to differentiate hard pornography from soft pornography and to make only the hard pornography illegal. In Clause 1(2)(a) the definition appears: calculated to arouse or gratify lascivious appetites". The dictionary meaning of "lascivious" is wanton or lustful. That is a fairly precise definition of what we are talking about. One has only to look at the material to decide that that is what it is. Then, for a charge to succeed it must also satisfy Clause 1(2)(b): of such a kind that its dissemination by way of business can reasonably be regarded as an abuse of public tolerance". This test is specifically intended to differentiate hard pornography from soft pornography. Hard pornography depicting perverted sex activities clearly falls within this category.

Public opinion is prepared to tolerate soft pornography, even if many do not like it. The point at which pornography becomes objectionable to most people, and therefore definable as hard pornography, will vary from one decade to another. and much which would have been judged intolerable 20 years ago is today judged as tolerable. Possibly in 20 years' time the change may have swung hack again.

The Bill is constructed in the belief that there is a residual sludge at the bottom of the bucket which is never going to be tolerable to public opinion and should therefore be made illegal. The second new idea is to make the offence of trading in this material for a profit, rather than the act of publication, as in the 1959 Obscene Publications Act. Thus, the main thrust of the Bill is against the producer, the importer and the wholesaler, where the big money is made in this trade. The retailer will only be touched by the Bill if the sale of hard pornography is on a scale that amounts to carrying on a business with a view to making a profit, as in most of the Soho sex shops.

Obviously a great booksellers like Hatchards selling Lady Chatterley's Lover or Fanny Hill probably would not come within Clause 1(2)(a)—certainly even less within Clause 1(2)(b). Similarly, the newspaper shop on the corner of the street selling the odd pornographic magazine would not be touched, either. Thus, the need for the statutory defences of public good for art, literature and science, necessary in the 1959 Act, are not necessary where the charge is constructed in this way.

Clauses 2, 3 and 4 are the normal machinery clauses. There is only one matter I want to say about them on enforcement, fines and imprisonment: the fine of £1,000 is clearly wrong; it should be at least 10 times that. Thus, the Bill is an attempt—and a carefully considered attempt—to preserve the liberty of the subject to buy and look at whatever he likes on the one hand, and on the other hand to check the main business of disseminating this extreme material which is polluting our national life.

What is the need for the Bill? I reckon that the reaction of noble Lords here and Members of Parliament in another place to the Government's Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill on the licensing of sex shops confirms the need for action. The general reaction is one of surprise and shock to learn that in order to cover everything that is sold in a sex shop the licence must include such matters as films, pictures and material relating to violence, cruelty and sex activity, the portrayal of urinary and excretary functions and genital organs.

I paraphrase Schedule 3 (3) to the Bill. Most people, I believe, imagined that such material was illegal and that action was taken against people who were trading in it or producing it. Unfortunately, the reality is far from that salubrious state of affairs. The trade grows and continues to grow, both in volume and depravity. The Metropolitan Police, who have to struggle with the main impact of the trade, tell me it is now so lucrative that it is literally like printing money, with production and importation growing all the time and the nature of some of the material makes even experienced policemen blench.

Why is the situation so alarmingly out of control? The answer must be squarely laid on the 1959 Obscene Publications Act. It has an admirable Long Title— To strengthen the law with regard to obscenity"— but in practice it has proved to be a broken reed. Both the vagueness of the definition of the offence and the width of the statutory defences have together provided so many loopholes that the law is far too weak to withstand the pressure of the powerful financial interests disseminating this material. The present scene in Soho illustrates the point all too vividly. The sale of extreme pornography both in magazines and cinemas generally in breach of the law flourishes, making fortunes for a handful of operators; and it is beyond the resources of the law to check it.

The infrequency of convictions, combined with the modest level of fines when people are taken to court, is totally insufficient to deter the operators from pursuing their profitable trade outside the law. The small and dedicated police force involved are struggling against impossible odds to keep law and order there. But I should add something in the opposite direction. The first custodial sentence passed on a convicted offender from Soho confirmed in trenchant terms by the Court of Appeal a couple of weeks ago sent a shiver through Soho, so I am told, which may have an influence for the future.

However, it is obvious that a positive strengthening of the law is needed. The best solution would be a Government Bill to take the place of the 1959 Act. Unfortunately, the Home Secretary takes the view that there is an insufficient consensus of parliamentary and public opinion to achieve this. However, he has approved a sort of piecemeal approach by marginal legislation—the Indecent Displays (Control) Act, the Act concerning child pornography and now the sex licensing Bill. Each has helped a bit, and especially has helped a little to protect the young; but the main supply of pornography continues to grow, boosted especially by the modern techniques of video.

Last Sunday, Mothering Sunday in churches throughout the land was celebrated by children going up to the altar, receiving a posy of wild flowers and returning to give them to their mothers as a gesture of filial love. I watched the scene in my country church and as I watched the children skipping back to their mums with their posies of wild flowers, the beauty of the innocence of youth was deeply moving. I felt there really must be a way of checking the spread of this revolting material which is threatening their lives. There must be a way of making possible their upbringing in conditions where they will not meet this until they are old enough and adult enough to protect themselves. It is against that background that this Bill is brought forward, though it deals with only part of the problem. Nevertheless, that part is very important. I commend the Bill to your Lordships and to my noble friend Lord Belstead.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, does the passage about recording material of this type apply to video as well as to books and pictures?

Lord Nugent of Guildford

Yes, my Lords, I am assured by the parliamentary draftsmen that it definitely does.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Lord Nugent of Guildford.)

4.55 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion that the Bill be now read a second time, to leave out ("now") and at end insert ("this day six months").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move an amendment to the Motion that this Bill be read a Second time. I beg to move that we should at the end of the Motion insert the words "this day six months". I regret, if I may say so, that we are asked to spend another day in your Lordships' House on sex We are getting far too much of it in this House, and indeed we have unfinished business before the House already on another aspect of this problem: that of sex shops. I feel also that a Bill of this kind is inappropriate for introduction into your Lordships' House. I think it should be introduced in the first instance in the representative Chamber of Parliament, theelected Chamber of Parliament. I have said before that I do not think it is seemly that a gathering of elderly Peers should be devoting so much time to problems which are really related to more youthful citizens.—

The Earl of Lauderdale

Nonsense!

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

The special quality of your Lordships' House is based upon experience and knowledge, very often of a specialised character, which can be brought to bear on the problems of the nation for the enlightenment and guidance of people generally and probably of the elected Chamber in particular. I doubt whether this is a subject on which our special experience and qualifications are suitable for the guidance and advice this Bill seeks to give.

Lord Somers

My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? Is he suggesting those with personal experience?

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I am not quite sure of the point of that intervention, but thought I had expressed myself pretty clearly on this, and it is only a supplement to observations of a similar character that I have made previously. It so happens that this Bill is introduced on the day after the remarks made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice in your Lordships' House. What he said on this subject yesterday has, as was to be expected, struck the headlines this morning. It may appear to casual observers that your Lordships are well on the ball since the remarks of the Lord Chief Justice one day are followed by a Bill like this on the day after. This is, of course, purely coincidental, and I would not myself regard the remarks made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice as a case for this Bill today. I would certainly agree that there is a case for more public discussion before deciding on further legislation on this difficult and emotive subject.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice referred to pornography coming across disguised as Dutch bacon and other commodities from Europe, but of course legislation already exists to intercept and stop that kind of traffic if it can be discovered: we do not need a new Bill to do that. I do not think there is any haste we can make today that is going to do any good.

Adverting to the string of sexual subjects we have been asked to deal with in your Lordships' House in recent days, I mentioned the Child Protection Act, the Indecent Displays (Control) Act of last year, the sex shops in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, and now this Bill today. I suggest that we should dispose of the sex business that we already have on hand before taking on any more.

This Bill, like the other ones, entails further curbs on individual freedom, and it is that aspect of the matter which concerns me, first and foremost. Just recently, I received letters from undergraduates in Edinburgh University, saying that they had been asked to study in depth the proceedings on Bills that had passed through Parliament. One said that he was going to concentrate on the Child Protection Act and another said that she was going to concentrate on the Indecent Displays (Control) Act. What they wanted to know was why I was so persistent an opponent of both of them, and why it was that I appeared to be the only persistent opponent of those Bills when they came before the House.

I tried to explain that I am concerned with the erosion of the liberty of the subject, because I think that every time we do it—and every Bill of this kind does it—we have to justify it in a cause which overrides liberty itself. There are many such causes with consequential restraints upon individual freedom, and the question this afternoon is: do we add yet another to the growing list, with all the accompanying powers granted to the police, and, in some cases, to civil servants and local authority officials, to enter and search on a warrant issued by a magistrate, by force if necessary?

There is already a sizeable and growing area of our personal, social and business lives where the right of entry, by force if necessary, exists; in the field of taxation, expecially. We are now tacking on to that a kind of sexual addition to the field of the right of entry by force if necessary. We had it in the Child Protection Act and the Indecent Displays (Control) Act; we find it in the sex shops provisions of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and now, again, the same formula, almost in the same terms so far as I can tell, is in this Bill. So we find that dirty books and magazines take their place alongside taxpayers cooking the books, hard drugs, firearms and dangerous wild animals unlawfully kept in the kitchen. But it remains true—and we have heard it again this afternoon—that freedom is kept only at the price of eternal vigilance, and we have always to be vigilant about it.

I would add that we must still believe in freedom, whatever the judges may say. I am not for pornography. I detest it. I am for freedom, and this is the problem that anyone who is standing up for freedom has to face, because simple minds will say, "If you are opposing this, you must be for pornography". My Lords, I am nothing of the sort. r am saying that I am not prepared to surrender part of civil liberty until the case for it is proved to general satisfaction, and not only to the satisfaction of sectional or sectarian groups in the community. That is my fixed position. I am therefore, in principle, against censorship and against manipulation of the media and curbs upon what we are free to read.

On the evil faces of so-called pornography, violence, misbehaviour, violent sexual offences and crime, I believe there is still a lot to be explored in the deep recesses of the human mind. There is much to be learned about why people seek satisfaction in directions which are so repulsive to others. I ask: are we satisfied that this is the time here in this House to get down to a new letter of the law on this most profound subject, where emotions and prejudices, not to mention fears, are so easily aroused? Is it imperative now? Are we so clear on how to legislate? Have we not had plenty of worries in the past on these matters? Have we no doubts at all? The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, who introduced the Bill in the most temperate terms, as he always does, seemed to be clear in his mind about the definitions of this Bill. Yet I invite attention for a moment to Clause 1(2), where the definition of "pornography" is: printed, pictorial or recorded matter which, by reason of its concern with sex, violence, cruelty or horror (a) is calculated to arouse or gratify lascivious appetites, and apparently created for that purpose". If you go to the dictionary, you find that "lascivious" means "lustful", and, if you go to "lustful" to find out what that means, it says "lascivious". This is the kind of guidance that we get on the meaning of words. I ask in all seriousness: if something is calculated to do something, who is going to do the calculation? If we are told that it has to be calculated to arouse sensuous appetites regarded as sinful, animal desires for sexual indulgence or lascivious passion, all those are the things which the dictionary tells us are part of the interpretation of the words used in this Bill.

What are these things which will arouse sensuous appetites regarded as sinful, animal desires for sexual indulgence or lascivious passion? Much that the noble Lord was describing I found so objectionable and so repulsive that I cannot understand how it would arouse anything in anybody, except disgust and horror. How people can get satisfaction from looking at this kind of stuff is beyond my comprehension. I really doubt whether the extent of the use of it, or the satisfaction to be gained from it, is anything like what noble Lords may think. I ask bluntly, because we have all seen things happen around the precincts of the House: what do noble Lords think about page 3 of The Sun? Are human breasts soft-porn or hard-porn, or is what we see there calculated to arouse sensuous appetites regarded as sinful? What is page 3 of The Sun there for? Is not this part of the mischief —

The Earl of Haslbury

My Lords, will the noble Lord give way for me to answer his question? It falls within the limit of public tolerance. Otherwise, page 3 of The Sun would not he in your Lordships' Library.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I am not saying whether it should, or would otherwise be. I am saying it is there and it is widely looked at. Therefore, one wonders how one distinguishes between one form of sexual propaganda and another. But these are all the old problems of trial by opinion on matters of opinion, rather than upon evidence.

I am not going to take up the time of the House any further with arguments on the Bill, when all that my amendment does is to defer consideration to the next Session. That really is the purpose of the amendment. I am saying that it would be wise of us to put off further consideration of the Bill, until there has been more public discussion on this subject, and we have disposed of other business on allied topics that has still to be dealt with in your Lordships' House. This was described, on a sheet of paper which I was handed today, as a dilatory Motion. It is not dilatory; it is purposeful. It has behind it the intention of having this matter considered at a later stage on a more satisfactory footing and in a different environment. It will give the Government time to consider the matter, along with all other aspects of the problem, which is undoubtedly of great concern to the public at the present time.

I believe that legislation by unfounded and whipped-up scares is thoroughly bad and that the Child Protection Act is such a case. But it so happens that the proposals on sex shops are the first to be brought forward by the Government of the day for as long as I can remember. There are calmer spirits in Whitehall than there are in Fleet Street and, indeed, in your Lordships' House. The pressures are not upon us in your Lordships' House in the same way as they are in another place where electoral considerations can be brought to bear. This puts us in a stronger position to proceed after full inquiry and due deliberation. I submit that we need more time for that.

I know that much time has been devoted to this subject by those who are intensely interested in it. We have still to reach conclusions upon the only recent report on this subject that we have available, the Williams Report. In a Written Answer which appears in yesterday's Official Report the noble Lord the Minister said that the Government have no plans to introduce comprehensive legislation arising from the Williams Report. I beg your Lordships' House to be steady on this and allied subjects. We can afford to be; we have the right to be and our seniority calls upon us to be. The other week it was rape, then it was murder, now it is pornography. And we have had sex shops in between. It is all pretty dreadful stuff. I have never had any; I have never bought it and I do not look at it, so my sensuous appetites, my animal desires and my lascivious passions are under complete control. Let us leave it there for the present and come back to it when we have got indecent displays and sex shops better sorted out. May I suggest, in conclusion, that even in matters of sex one step at a time is not a bad maxim to follow. My Lords, I beg to move my amendment.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the Bill be now read a second time, to leave out "(now") and at end insert ("this day six months)".—(Lord Houghton of Sowerby.)

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Airedale)

My Lords, the original Question was that this Bill be now read a second time, since when an amendment has been moved to leave out "now" and insert "this day six months". The Question I now therefore have to put before the House is that this amendment be agreed to.

5.13 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, the House—indeed, I would say the country—has been indebted for a long time to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for the social battles which he has fought. I should like to pay my small tribute to him and to his worthy ally, the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, for the battle which they continue to wage today. I make no apologies for saying that this is a subject which ought to occupy your Lordships' House, and it is a very good expenditure of time that we do so. I do not confuse the issue today with one of liberty. I hope that, with others of your Lordships, I am prepared to shed my blood in the cause of liberty. I am not prepared to shed a sneeze in order to protect the liberty of those who make fortunes out of hard pornography. It is of course a tremendously important subject.

If my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby will forgive me, I do not think I can quite so easily dismiss as he did some of the remarks that were made in the most interesting and useful debate on law and order which took place yesterday in your Lordships' House. I thought it was one of the best illustrations that I have had in my short stay in your Lordships' House of the eminence of the opinions that can be brought forward on important national issues.

As part of that, I do not minimise a contribution made by somebody with all the illustrious past and with all the great experience of our present Lord Chief Justice, and in the light of this debate it is rather interesting to reflect upon what he said. I quote him shortly from col. 989 of the Official Report of your Lordships' deliberations yesterday. This is what he said: … one would only have to sit for a short time in my court in the Strand to realise the imitative effect of the huge increase in the sale of pornography. The rarefication and the recondite type of sexual behaviour which now accompanies sexual crime is almost unbelievable, and it is quite obviously traceable to the glossy imports which come into this country,". Then followed the quotation of my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby. But with respect, I do not think that the Dutch are known for bacon. In fact, the noble and learned Lord said "disguised as Danish bacon"—not Dutch bacon— or Dutch tomatoes, in very large quantities and which, percolated through various shops, find their way into the hands of young people, with the inevitable imitative results which we see, increasingly, every day. These are the areas, said the noble and learned Lord, where I respectfully suggest that the attack should be levelled rather than, too late, at the time when these young people arrive in court or in the hands of the police". When observations of that weighty kind are made I do not think noble Lords will regard it as a waste of their time to he debating the matter that we are debating in regard to the Second Reading of this Bill.

Having said that, when we come to look at a Bill dealing with these matters, may I suggest that there are three phases through which we ought to go. The first is to decide for ourselves where criminal law comes in, where questions of conscience and morality come in and where the boundary between them is. We had occasion to do that when the Wolfenden Committee sat from 1954 for some few years. I happen to have been a member of that committee. Your Lordships will remember that it was a committee which dealt with homosexual offences and prostitution. If your Lordships will allow a personal anecdote, I can remember so well—I happened to be the chairman of the London County Council at the time—receiving a letter from the then Home Secretary, who subsequently graced the Woolsack. I carry with me to this very day the memory of that letter. I wonder whether it was truly a compliment, because the letter read as follows: I am thinking of setting up a committee to deal with homosexual offences and prostitution and I cannot think of anyone more suitable than you to be a member of that committee". I continue to doubt the worth of that compliment. Be that as it may, your Lordships will appreciate that one of the matters which we had to consider at a very preliminary stage of our deliberations was the boundary line between morals, ethics, the conscience of the nation and where the criminal law comes in.

With your Lordships' permission, I shall merely quote, shortly, from paragraph 13 at page 9 of that report: What acts ought to be punished by the State? We have therefore worked with our own formulation of the function of the criminal law so far as it concerns the subjects of this inquiry. In this field, its function, as we see it, is to preserve public order and decency, to protect the citizen from what is offensive or injurious, and to provide sufficient safeguards against exploitation and corruption of others, particularly those who are specially vulnerable because they are young, weak in body, or mind, inexperienced, or in a state of special physical, official or economic dependence. It is not, in our view, the function of the law to intervene in the private lives of citizens, or to seek to enforce any particular pattern of behaviour, further than is necessary to carry out the purposes we have outlined". I think that is a sensible way in which to approach these matters. I noted that those who are responsible for this Bill and for bringing it before your Lordships were careful to see that, whatever they might think of the dissemination of hard pornographic material, this Bill does not make it a criminal offence for an adult who desires to go out and privately acquire pornographic literature to do so, provided he does not deal in it for the purpose of gain.

We move to the next stage and say that this Bill, in trying to protect the young and the weak and to deal with an evil is, of course, within the domain suggested as appropriate for the criminal law by the Wolfendon Committee. I move on to the next phase and ask this question of myself, and I ask your Lordships to consider it with me. What is the state of the present law and does it deal with the mischief? The present law is enshrined in an Act which is not very old and which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. It is the Obscene Publications Act 1959, as amended by the Act of 1964. I would say, with respect—and I will go on to the suggested weaknesses we have heard about in this debate—that if you do not have to alter an Act of Parliament by passing another Bill, you are doing the right thing in not altering it. You do not need to clutter up the statute book with new legislation, especially in regard to these matters on which we have separate Bills already, unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

May I remind your Lordships of what the existing law is? Your Lordships will bear with me if, instead of paraphrasing, I quote the actual sections involved. Section 1 of the Obscene Publications Act states: (1) For the purposes of this Act an article shall be deemed to be obscene if its effect or (where the article comprises two or more distinct items) the effect of any one of its items is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it. (2) In this Act "article" means any description of article containing or embodying matter to be read or looked at or both, any sound record, and any film or other record of a picture or pictures. (3) For the purposes of this Act a person publishes an article who—

  1. (a) distributes, circulates, sells, lets on hire, gives, or lends it, or who offers it for sale or for letting on hire; or
  2. (b) in the case of an article containing or embodying matter to be looked at or a record, shows, plays or projects it".
I stop the quotation there. There is no doubt that every type of dealing for gain is covered by that section. There is no doubt that the article has a wide definition in it and, so far as I understood it, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, who is always so clear in his language and so precise in seeing that he puts his case fairly, said that one of the two objections, although it was his main one, was that prosecution could not easily be brought because of the definition that was given to "obscenity", and he preferred his own definition.

I think we had better look at that because, as the noble Lord said very fairly, there was successful prosecution under this Act only recently and when the court of appeal sat upon the matter it refused the appeal. I must apologise to your Lordships if I am reading too much, but I want to be precise and do not want to paraphrase—and this is a very important matter. The Law Report appearing in The Times of 17th March, only a few days ago, was headed, "Jail policy for pornographers". It goes on to report: The Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by"— I will not mention the names— against a total sentence of six months' imprisonment imposed on him on January 22, 1982, at Knightsbridge Crown Court (Judge Morton and a jury)"— and I underline "jury" for the moment— on a conviction of six offences of having obscene articles for publication for gain contrary to Section 2(1) of the Obscene Publications Act 1959, as amended". The report continues: Lord Justice Lawton, giving the judgment of the court, said that the case was of some importance because it was the first for some time in which the court was able to decide what should be the sentencing policy in regard to the commercial exploitation of pornography". I will pause there, because I understand the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, to say that punishment was another thing he was looking at under the old law, because it would seem to be minimal compared with the nature of the offence. Here we have an illustration of what our courts are doing in regard to this matter, and it was no very slight penalty that was imposed then or is being advocated for the future. The report continues: There was no doubt whatever that at the material time, in March 1979, the appellant was selling pornographic material in the way of books, films and video tapes on a commercial scale". The report goes on to say that the appellant had pleaded not guilty at the original trial. Lord Justice Lawton was reported as saying that: It could not be said that in this class of case it was elderly judges who were setting what some might regard as old fashioned standards. The jury were representative of the community at large and if a modern jury took the view that books, films and video tapes were obscene it could be taken that they were reflecting the present-day view about these matters". I stop there.

A defect that I see in this Bill—and obviously I am making the case that the Bill is unnecessary, although obviously I agree with its purpose—is that the offences under it can only be tried before a magistrate and it is the magistrate—or lay magistrates—who must decide whether these offences have been committeed. There is no right to go before a jury. The learned Lord Justice Lawton emphasised how important it was, in his view, that a jury should be able to temper the times in which they are making their judgment with the language employed in the state statute.

I continue for another reason with the next paragraph of the law report, and then I promise to stop quoting: The problem was what the trial judge should do when there was a verdict of guilty in this class of case, where there was commercial exploitation of pornography as there was here. In R. v. Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, ex parte Blackburn (The Tittles, March 7, 1980) it came to light that the Commissioner was doing his best to control pornography but he was limited by the available resources of manpower and money". The commissioner had a chance of saying that he was limited—and I am quoting the noble Lord, Lord Nugent—by the vagueness of the statute. The commissioner could have said that he was limited by the fact that he just could not get juries to convict on the present state of the law and therefore the law needed changing. The commissioner did not say that. Nor did the learned Lord Justice say that. What he said was that the reason for the small number of prosecutions was because the police were limited by manpower and money.

My Lords, I have been speaking for long enough and I only want to say this in conclusion. The noble Lord, as I said, ought to be congratulated because if he brings this matter again before the public eye and Soho trembles—again I think I am quoting him—as a result of this debate in your Lordships' House—and indeed other people may tremble as a result of other things that happened in your Lordships' House this afternoon, and not necessarily on this Bill many of us will be very pleased. If it puts some strength behind the hands of the commissioner, if it encourages the Secretary of State to see that the Treasury supplies him with enough resources to see that the existing legislation is carried out and, if necessary, to increase the police force in regard to the part of the establishment that would deal with these matters, then your Lordships, I am perfectly sure, again would not regard this as a waste of time, nor would they regard is as a waste of time that the noble Lord has presented this Bill to us today.

Having said that, and having made it abundantly clear, I hope, that I personally—and one speaks personally on Private Bills from this Front Bench—sympathise so much with the object of the exercise, I am afraid I must say that to interfere with the present legislation does not seem to me necessary, certainly not to the extent of bringing forward a new Bill and making it into an Act. But having said that, I look forward with great interest to hear those who will be participating in this debate, not least the noble Viscount who will be following me and will be delivering his maiden speech. I am quite sure that others of your Lordships will find my argument somewhat faulty, but at the moment I believe in it implicitly.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, would he address himself to this point? I agreed with so much of what he said. But would he agree that the case which he quoted with such felicity from the Court of Appeal, to which I also referred, is a case on its own? Is he aware that normally when the police think they have material which should be charged, four-fifths of the cases are judged by their lawyers and the public prosecutor not to be suitable to proceed under Clause 2, and therefore should proceed under Clause 3 and go to the magistrates' court for forfeiture, because of the difficulty of convincing juries? Is he aware that of the 20 per cent. that go to the Crown court, although the material is invariably extreme, over half fail to get convictions before a jury? Would the noble Lord, in concluding his speech, say a word on this single excellent case? Does he really believe, with the defences being constructed as they are in the 1959 Act, that we have got a weapon strong enough there to deal with this very powerful influence behind pornography?

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, those wiser than the humble Lord who addresses his answer to that question sat on the Williams Committee, and they composed paragraphs, Chapters 8 and 9 as I remember, dealing with this very point. After all their deliberations and all their wisdom, if I remember correctly, they came out with a formula by way of alternative to the language of the 1959 Act and made the offence one which was "offensive to reasonable people". I must say that to use that definition creates in my mind—and I can only give an individual opinion—the feeling that not just the percentages to which the noble Lord referred would fail to get past those who were saying whether it was likely to lead to conviction; I would have thought the percentages would be increased by that definition, because who is a reasonable person—except, obviously, all your Lordships—and what is deemed to be offensive?

If I may further answer the noble Lord quite briefly, I do not find it any easier, to be very frank, to think that the definitions employed in this Bill would have any other lot than the ones under the present Act. I find that the only way in which the noble Lord with his ingenuity has got over that is by saying, "Please let us dispense with juries; they are much too undependable. Let us have the magistrate". I do not think that is the way in which your Lordships would wish to deal with matters of this kind. Magistrates are but human beings and, my Lords, do they vary! I can tell that to your Lordships from personal experience. I can see before me at this moment one magistrate who would go red in the face at page 3 of the Sun; I can see others who would tolerate very much more than page 3 of the Sun, and ask why it was their time was being taken up with this case in their courts. So it must be a matter for the jury, and if people are now taking a broader view of things than they should, that is a matter, I would have thought, for education and for dealing with the moral standards of the public. I do not think your Lordships can legislate for that.

5.38 p.m.

Viscount Buckmaster

My Lords, having spent the last 30 years as a backwoodsman, or perhaps I might say more appropriately back desertman, in the Arabian Peninsula and in various other parts of the Arab world, it is with the greatest humility that I rise to support this Bill, which deals with a subject of the greatest concern to me. The all pervasive presence of pornography affects almost all of us; few indeed can escape from it.An Arab poet once wrote, many years ago: Even sparrows suffer from piles". I wonder whether there are any noble Lords who are sufficiently well versed in biology to confirm or refute this.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has, rightly, I am sure, confined the drafting of this Bill to the effects of pornography on British subjects. I would put to your Lordships that there is another and very important dimension to this problem, and that is the impact of pornography on foreigners resident in and visiting Britain. I must confine my remarks to the Moslem communities and here I would remind your Lordships that there are now something like 1½ million to 2 million Moslems resident in Great Britain and roughly half a million Moslems visitors annually.

In dealing with this subject I must inevitably deal, briefly I hope, with the teachings of Islam, and Moslem friends of mine have asked me particularly to make these points. I am, of course, conscious of the time limit rightly and traditionally imposed on maiden speakers, but I would ask your Lordships' indulgence if I exceed the time limit. However, if any noble Lord wishes to leave the Chamber or to enter it at any stage it will not in anyway disturb or annoy me.

My Lords, 30 years ago I was in the middle of a long journey by camel—2½ months in fact—and it took me to the remotest corners of Arabia, in connection with the frontier dispute between Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia. During the course of that journey I was able wholly to lose touch with the 20th century, and I can assure your Lordships that it was the most wholesome and beneficial experience of my life. The severe beauty of the desert is matched by the austere, puritanical character of the bedouin, who, from earliest childhood, had been rooted and founded in the teachings of Islam and the traditions of the desert. These are people among whom the spiritual and the secular co-exist so harmoniously—a people who, unlike ourselves, are never wholly earthbound.

I must assure your Lordships that I am no desert romantic. I am all too well aware that the picture of pristine purity which I presented to your Lordships—and which, of course, applied only to a part of Arabia 30 years ago—has changed out of all recognition. The Cadillac has largely replaced the camel: money has corrupted many; and we read stories of Arab sheikhs who would rather buy a new Mercedes than empty the ashtrays in the old one.

I am aware, too, that many of our Arab friends who visit Britain come here in search of carnal rather than cultural pleasures, Nevertheless, the break-up of the traditional moral structure which has resulted from the all too rapid onrush of the 20th century on to a 14th or 15th century edifice, has not, broadly speaking, affected the outlook of a great many Arabs, particularly those of the greatest influence, who are still rooted and grounded in the teachings of Islam, which I shall examine shortly, and the traditions of the desert.

If your Lordships will permit me, I shall return, briefly, I hope, to the desert. Those of us who know it well would agree that its most surprising characteristic is its variety. A traveller will find himself at one time on flat sand, flanked by dunes of unearthly beauty, at the next, and without any warning, he will be in a quicksand or caught in the clawing clutches of a salt marsh. In the same way, the unsuspecting visitor to Britain will find himself at one moment elated by the glories of Westminster Abbey, at the next appalled by the pornographic cesspits of Soho. It is this traumatic transition, from the beautiful to the beastly, from the dignified to the degrading, from the supra-human to the sub-bestial, which is so disturbing to so many of our Moslem visitors.

But there is an even more sinister aspect to this picture. Well do I remember a little oasis in the desert—a few attractive little palms surrounded by sand dunes. Every time I visited it the sands had encroached just a little bit further, silently, slowly, imperceptibly, until in the end those lovely palms, which gave much needed shade and delicious dates, had been throttled, stifled, extinguished by the desert. In the same way, when I visited Soho recently, I looked hard for an attractive little restaurant which I used to visit 25 years ago. But where was it?—it had been buried, stifled, extinguished by the porn shops, the video parlours and the blue sex clubs which had sprung up all around it.

I must now deal as briefly as I can with the teachings of Islam in relation to pornography and public morals. We in your Lordships' House have the privilege of the right reverend Prelates who can give us a Christian view on moral issues. I know that there are many noble Lords who profess the Jewish faith. This may he, perhaps, the first time that the voice of the third great monotheistic religion—Islam—has been heard in your Lordships' House. Let me assure your Lordships that I am no Moslem. My studies of Islam have, in fact, confirmed and strengthened my belief in Christianity, as illustrating the closeness of these two great religions. I am, therefore, not trying to convert your Lordships to Islam; and I would never move that the call from the minaret replace the prayers which we are so privileged to hear from right reverend Prelates in your Lordships' House.

Speaking about a religion which is not one's own is a great responsibility and a delicate and very difficult task. But I can assure your Lordships that what I shall say has the full support of the leading Islamic authorities in Britain. The most important point to make about Islam is that Moslems believe that the Koran was divinely revealed to the prophet Mohammed by the Angel Gabriel. Indeed, if one remembers that the prophet was totally illiterate at the time, this remarkable revelation is, in my view, one of the great spiritual revelations of all times and all religions. It is quite wrong, therefore, to say that Mohammed wrote the Koran in the same way as the evangelists wrote the Gospels, or the Old Testament prophets wrote their great works of prophecy. Let me add that Islam is a far more powerful force in the lives of most Moslems, even those who do not actively profess their faith, than Christianity is in the lives of most Christians.

Let me now look at those aspects of Islam which particularly concern the Bill that we are now discussing. And the most important of these aspects is its emphasis on discipline. And from discipline flow dignity, decorum and, above all, decency. Who can understand the true meaning of discipline who has not kept—as I have very briefly—the Ramadan fast? This is a real fast which lasts for 30 full days, during which, from before sunrise to after sunset, Moslems are forbidden to take any food or drink, or to smoke, and some of them will not even swallow their own saliva. So this is a real fast, not just a matter of giving up sugar in one's tea for Lent, which no doubt some noble Lords are now doing.

Islam is particularly a religion which enforces the strictest discipline on young children. I have seen many young children aged six to eight sit for hours on end in their fathers' assemblies, silent and motionless. I would invite your Lordships to compare the behaviour of such children with that of the school rebels of Toxteth or Bideford. Inherent also in Islam is its emphasis on dignity—a dignity which expresses itself in their films, in their pictures, in their way of life, how they greet each other, and how they offer condolences. would remind your Lordships perhaps of the great care taken in the preparation of the film, "The Message", about the life of the Prophet Mohammed, in which the prophet himself never appeared; indeed, his name was not even mentioned in the title. Can one be surprised at the comparison which Moslems draw between the presentation of that film and the presentation of "Jesus Christ Super Star"?

In regard to dress, the very strictest rules are laid down, and, although they have now been relaxed, the Koran lays down quite clearly that the very minimum dress permissible for a Moslem when he is praying alone is a garment which extends from above the navel to below the knees. How well I remember the horror—yes, indeed, horror it was—that greeted one of Her Majesty's Ministers who arrived in a little state in the Gulf many years ago dressed in shorts.

At the time of Mohammed there was, of course, no pornography. But I would commend to your Lordships a short quotation from the Koran which I think sums up the teaching of Moslems on moral behaviour generally: Enjoin your believing men to avert their eyes from temptation and to restrain their carnal desires…Enjoin your believing women to avert their eyes from temptation and to observe chastity". However, I must emphasise that Islam, unlike Christianity, does not recommend celibacy. On the contrary, the procreative act is regarded as one of the blessings of God, provided that it is used properly and hallowed. That is why Moslems regard so much of the horrible pornography and sex material which we see about today as so utterly abhorrent. In this context I would emphasise that Moslem parents take the strongest objection to some of the more explicit forms of sex education in schools, and I was delighted to see that this subject was raised in a Question in another place recently.

However, to my mind the most important aspect of Islam is the indestructible force of its moral teaching. To the believing Moslem, right is right and wrong is wrong, and what is wrong today cannot be made right tomorrow; what is considered obscene and forbidden today cannot he regarded as acceptable tomorrow. Just as in the desert there is no twilight, darkness succeeding the day almost immediately, so in Islam we do not suffer from the murky, moral twilight which we find so prevalent in this country.

Foreigners in Britain react in different ways to pornography. To some it is boring; to some, titillating; to some, sexually stimulating. No doubt some find it objectionable and repulsive. Some, indeed, I fear, may he corrupted and depraved by it. But to the believing Moslem—and I emphasise the word "believing"—pornography in any form, hard, medium or soft, is totally and absolutely abhorrent.

Many Moslem visitors who come to London after years abroad are, I have found, quite overwhelmed by disbelief. Yes, indeed, it is sheer disbelief at what they see around them. "How", they say, "can the British with their great traditions of statesmanship and justice, their great Christian traditions, have fallen so far?" Indeed, I have had the same feeling when coming home on leave, whether it be from Muscat or Morocco, from Libya or the Lebanon. Coming home over the years I have asked myself again and again the question: "Can this be the Britain that I knew? Surely it is all a dream".

I have been trying to assemble evidence about the effect of pornography on visitors, on Anglo-Arab trade and on students. Like a well known BBC commentator, I have come to no firm conclusions. However, I have discovered a few interesting pointers. Here, very briefly, are some. The number of visitors to Britain from the Moslem world has declined over the past two years by roughly 28 per cent., and although one cannot ascribe this to pornography—and with pornography, of course, one must add, what I call, the pernicious package, which includes such things as violence, drugs, muggings, and so on—this package is, I think, an important element in that trend.

I am glad to inform your Lordships that our trade with the Arab world has increased quite considerably. Last year we exported £5.2 billion worth of British goods to the Arab world, compared with £4 billion in 1980. However, during my experience in the Arab world I have found that some Arab merchants have been deterred—and doubtless will continue to be deterred—by what they see around them. In this connection, I was delighted to hear the other day on the BBC that a certain firm which did much business with the Arab world had decided to ban from its factories all the pictures of glossy girls which gave such offence to their distinguished Arab customers.

Now, students. Among other things I work with a society which arranges entertainment, hospitality, and so on, for something like 560 overseas students drawn from about 60 nationalities. Some of these have assured me that they are deeply offended and disturbed by the pornography they see around them. One of these students told me—and this is most interesting if it is true—that more students in his hostel failed their examinations through preoccupation with pornography (and this applied particularly to blue films) than from any other cause.

I know, too, that many Moslem parents have now decided not to send their children to Britain because of the corruption which they consider they will find here. And only the other day I read of a big Arab university which was putting out a warning to its students, "Don't go to Britain to learn technology from the lepers".

There is always a lighter side to every picture. I would put to you briefly that some of our Moslem visitors find themselves totally and utterly confused by the permissive society, pornography, and all that. Let me give you briefly two examples. I remember an Arab father counselling his son about to go to Britain, "Wherever you go, my boy" he said, "and whatever you do, under no circumstances must you go to the ballet".

On another occasion an Arab sheikh from a certain distant state in the Arab world was brought to Britain. He was taken to a certain large store in London famous for its watches. After a long perusal of the watches on the counter he suddenly blurted out, "I'll have that one But he did not mean a watch, my Lords. He meant one of the ladies behind the counter.

I have quoted from the Koran because I believe its teachings are of great relevance to us. Let me leave your Lordships with a quotation from Romans, Chapter 12, verse 2: be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind…". I need not remind your Lordships that St. Paul urged the Philippians to, think on things pure, lovely, and of good report". In the same way, Plato wrote: Let our youth live in a beautiful land". There is a great deal of beauty around us in this lovely land of ours, but, like the man with the muck rake in the Pilgrim's Progress, we are so busy raking muck that we can only cast our glance downwards.

I am not competent to comment on the finer points of this Bill. Noble Lords, noble and learned Lords, right reverend Prelates no doubt, could do this far better than I. None of us would claim that this Bill is going to put the clock back. Pornography of one kind or another is likely to be with us for a great many years, and we can no more hope to eradicate it than we can hope to cure those poor little sparrows of their piles.

This Bill is of supreme importance to me because it touches on those great moral issues which are the mainspring of our lives and the very bedrock of our beings. I would therefore commend this Bill to your Lordships because it points a finger in the right direction. It points to the path which leads out of the foetid swamps and the malodorous marshes; a path that leads to those sunlit uplands, those serene, unsullied sands, however distant they may be, which most of us, whatever our race and whatever our religion, would at heart wish to reach.

6.5 p.m.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, in addressing your Lordships' House this evening my first and pleasant task is to congratulate, on your Lordships' behalf, the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, on a maiden speech whose modesty was very much in the tradition of your Lordships' House and which was interlaced with that poetry and poetic feeling for the desert which has always been, almost anomalously, attractive to the inhabitants of this rather damp island. I believe the point he made was extremely important. I sometimes feel ashamed of what foreigners must think about us when they see the state of some of our porn shops. It gives me particular pleasure to speak on your Lordships' behalf on this occasion as the noble Viscount's grandfather was a friend of my father, and I have frequently been regaled in youth with some of his obiter dicta. I am sure I shall be speaking for all your Lordships if I say that we look forward to hearing him on many occasions in the future.

Now to our muttons. I support the Bill and oppose the amendment. I should like to begin by discounting certain criticisms which may recur in the course of the debate, because the positive points in favour of the Bill have been so ably put by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, that I do not want merely to repeat them. First it may be argued, and the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has argued—and I ought really in parenthesis to break off and say that I would thank him most sincerely for a sympathetic attitude towards, and the study which he has put into, this Bill—that the Bill covers ground covered by other statutes.

Supposing that it does; that a statute never should cover ground of another statute is a counsel of perfection. We cannot always achieve it. There is one particular respect in which I do not think this Bill is, as it were, tautologous repetition of another Act. I am not quite sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is aware of the loophole in the 1959–1964 system (I will call it that) presented by those words, "deprave and corrupt". It opens a gap for defence counsel through which he can conduct a cart and horse.

I am not speaking on this point out of special pleading or in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. I have made it in this House before, and I made it in evidence to the Williams Committee when they were sitting. Defence counsel can turn to the jury and say, "On this material which has been put before you in evidence, do you feel depraved and corrupted?" The jury will answer, I think quite truthfully, "No, we don't feel depraved and corrupted. We may find it abhorrent and he repelled, but we don't feel depraved and corrupted". I think they are speaking the truth, because I do not believe that looking at one dirty picture once depraves and corrupts you; and that is the weak point of the law as it stands at the moment. What is depraving and corrupting is making a habit of it, and then allowing it to be the accompaniment of what we sometimes call solitary sex.

Another argument that can be put forward is that we are taking on a problem that is too difficult to handle. I do not believe that. It is an argument for putting our armour on and reaching for our weapons from the wall. It is not an argument for taking them off and hanging them up.

In the late war we used to say, "The difficult we do at once; the impossible takes us only a little longer". It is in that spirit that, in the United States, three fighting Solicitors General have cleaned up their bailiwicks in the cities of Atlanta, Cincinnatti and Phoenix, all of them big cities. The one-time porn shops there have put up their shutters and slunk away to shabbier markets elsewhere, and therefore to the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary I say, "It can be done. Go thou and do likewise! This Bill should be a tool to your hand".

I come to my reasons for opposing the amendment. Basically, I oppose it because it enshrines a bogus philosophy. No matter how many advocates that philosophy attracts in the course of the debate, it were better to skewer them collectively and have them down en brochette, as it were, than tackle them seriatim, bite after bite; and contrary to the rules of order, which allow me only one meal. The philosophy, which is sometimes called liberal humanism, asserts that there are no absolute standards of morality or for that matter, anything else, and was first put forward by Protagoras in 450 BC, and it keeps on cropping up.

If there are no absolute standards of reference, then all debate is otiose. But your Lordships do entertain dialetic; you do argue and you do base your arguments on standards, and there is no worthier moralist in the House than the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, albeit he is a moralist with an alternative theory of first principles which his practice constantly belies. He is forever arguing. He is not only a moralist but a passionate one, and never more fervid than when denouncing moral fervour in other people, especially when their ideas do not coincide with his.

I find that his so-called liberal humanism is dogmatic, intolerant and in no sense liberal. It has nothing in common with humanism as I understand it; that is, the Neo-Platonic Christian humanism of the Renaissance which gave us Dante's Paradiso, nor with our own 17th century Cambridge Platonists and the other Cambridge scholars who gave us the poetry of Vaughan and More. It is irrational where it pretends to be rational and sails under false colours. It substitutes the great coincidence theory for the law of cause and effect, and we heard about that yesterday, especially in that remarkable maiden speech from the Lord Chief Justice.

We abolish the death penalty and up goes the murder of police officers, and it is all a coincidence. We liberalise sexual intercourse, thereby encouraging promiscuity, and up goes the incidence of veneral disease, and it is all a coincidence. We tolerate sexual perversion and solitary sexual indulgence inspired by the pornographers' pictures, films and cassettes, and up go rape, sodomy and the molestation of the young, and it is all a coincidence. We reject the distinction between freedom and licence, and out breaks a conflict between freedom and freedom which freedom in abstracto cannot cope with and cannot resolve, and it is all a coincidence.

Our business this afternoon is the very scrag-end of politics. One man's meat being another man's poison, it transpires that one man's freedom for whatever it may be is in headlong collision with another man's freedom from the very same thing. And freedom in the abstract cannot resolve it, however appealed to. Freedom is an undoubted value of our civilisation, but it is not the only value. That classical trio—truth, beauty and goodness—rank level with it. Freedom without goodness leads to nothing but violence and anarchy; freedom without truth leads to nothing but squabbling and backbiting; and freedom without beauty leads you to Soho.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, demands freedom for the production, circulation and enjoyment of pornography. I demand freedom from it, knowing that once in circulation—and it circulates—the minds of the young and innocent will be distorted and poisoned by it. They will acquire an utterly wrong attitude to the indulgence of their sexual urges. They will come to think of it as some sort of super candy-floss to be had, consumed and enjoyed at regular intervals as a pleasure isolated from life, but never as expressing the consummation of a loving relationship between people engaged on the lifetime's task of raising a family together.

Chivalry and gentleness to the weaker sex—and they are the weaker in terms of the brute force that can rape them—was one of the happier discoveries of Christian knighthood. The legends of Arthur and the ideals on which they are founded are one of the glories of our Western literature, European as well as British. What sort of chivalry do you expect to find in the sleazy porn shops of Soho's mafeosi? What sort of chivalry do they or their clients extend to the girls who pose for them?

The idea that when two freedoms of the kind to which I have referred collide, one or the other must be upheld without restriction, is a political nonstarter. There has to be a compromise, and that is just what the Bill achieves, as expounded by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent. Think not of what is condemns but of what it permits. It disregards the difficult area where one might declare a demaracation dispute between girlie magazines and the National Gallery. It makes no attempt to catch the lewd fellow with a dirty picture in his pocket. The customs may catch him if he bought it aboard on holiday and imported it, but the Bill does not.

Last week the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, told the House that he had given the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, up for Lent. I have taken no such vow of abstinence. He may disqualify me as a legislator because my physiology is senescent. He may disqualify the whole of your Lordships' House for the same reason, though I can think of some youngsters on the Back Benches who would not take it in very good part if that were attributed to them. But his emphasis on age induces in me a mood where, relative to his strictures, I begin to find his philosophy somewhat juvenile by contrast, a temptation reinforced by contemplation of the marvellously prolonged span of years which find him still incredibly forceful and energetic, to the admiration of his friends, of whom I am one. Nevertheless, I cannot help but reflect sadly on the dictum: "What a priceless gift is youth; what a crime to waste it on the young!"

It is a great pity that the noble Lord's gifts are squandered on nothing worthier than the protection of pimps, perverts and pornographers. For that reason I oppose his amendment. I shall vote accordingly if the matter goes to a Division, and I hope your Lordships will do the same.

6.18 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Southwell

My Lords, I am sure the whole House will wish again to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, on his maiden speech. It was a very different speech from any other maiden speech I have ever heard and it reminded me of an important fact; namely, that all too often we forget that considerable minority of people who live among us who have very strong religious beliefs indeed. I sometimes wish that the press were as sympathetic towards Christian sentiment as they are often towards the sentiment of other religions. I think sometimes we are gravely deficient in the way in which we regard the feelings of Christian people.

It is often asked whether the Bench of Bishops has a party line on issues debated in this House. We have not. I speak for myself, and others doubtless would make a very different speech in this debate. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, for introducing the Bill. Obviously my stand is that of many people, and it must be that pornographic material is trash, is the serious trivialisation of sex and is deeply offensive to the majority of right-thinking people, and let nothing I say throw any doubt on that.

As I understand it, today's debate is not about pornography but about legislation about pornography. What we are dealing with is how best we can legislate against it—and that is a very different matter. It has always been one of my moral convictions that I must think seriously about the consequences of my actions, even my right actions. That is why, for instance, personally I cannot be a pacifist; for I believe that I am just as blameworthy for the actions that I allow as those that I commit. To refuse to resist evil can be a collusion with evil and have disastrous results.

That means in connection with this Bill that, while I am wholly approving of its intentions, I am doubtful about its results. Will the Bill achieve what the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, intends, or will it only make the law more difficult to define, and so create more loopholes? If it were successful, it could even drive underground the whole trade in pornography, with some very nasty and unpredictable results.

The first thing that I want to stress is that too often the Church has been somewhat negative in its approach to sexuality. It has treated sexuality as a danger, rather than as a wholesome and delightful aspect of human life. The Church has as its first concern the encouragement of a positive view of sex, so that relationships are improved within marriage and the trivialisation of sex is discouraged. It is not sufficient for the Church to be simply censorious.

I do not see the promoters of the Bill as being primarily censorious; they are realists, and the reality is that the pornographic industry is a huge industry and that its activities become increasingly offensive. And I use the word "offensive" in more than one sense; it is militantly on the march, and pornographic materials, if they are to satisfy lust, have to be increasingly obscene.

What I am persuaded of is that as a matter of policy we ought to pursue the line that the Williams Committee took on this matter; this has been mentioned. It is essentially that of removing pornographic material and displays from public view. The committee felt that offensiveness was at the heart of the danger of pornography and that the law acted most wisely when it reduced or eliminated the opportunities for it to offend people who are going about their ordinary avocations and who dislike having to be confronted by this trivialisation of sex. I believe that the Indecent Displays Act, recently passed, is along the right lines and needs to be given time to assert itself. It is highly unlikely that we shall be able to prevent the sale of this kind of material, but we must ensure that the public is not affronted by this business in any way.

It has surely been our experience that it is extremely difficult to legislate in this area of morality. The words "obscenity" and "indecency" are easier to define than to determine in a court of law. The present Bill introduces further concepts. The word "pornography", which I do not think has before been used in legislation, is one of them, and there are also the concepts of "lascivious appetites" and "public tolerance". I fear that we might be creating a happy hunting ground for lawyers who are seeking to find loopholes in the law. I wish I could believe that this extra clutch of concepts could make the law clearer and more workable.

I should like to state three simple convictions that I hold. One is that we must never stop trying to protect the general public from the damage that pornography can do; and that is one of the reasons why I support this particular Bill. Secondly, I believe that no one has the right to claim an unrestricted freedom on his actions. The freedom of the press is often defended beyond its proper limits. Freedom is not a licence to do what you like, but the right to act without restriction, except where the rights and interests of others are in conflict and need upholding. In my view pornography goes beyond that limit intrinsically and in the way in which it is made available.

Thirdly, I am convinced that nobody can be improved by legislation. You cannot improve behaviour by enacting laws, and yet—and this is the point that I wish to make—law can provide constraints which discourage bad behaviour. It was Professor Butterfield I think, who was professor of modern history in the University of Cambridge at the end of the last war, who wrote in his book, Christianity and History—and I am not quoting his words exactly—that it is amazing how badly good, honest men behave when the normal restraints of law are removed.

That rang very true for me at the time when I had just been a serving soldier and I recalled how I and others had behaved off the field of battle as we toiled our way remorselessly through the Italian campaign. Normally law-abiding men looted and treated with scant respect other people's property and rights merely because the normal, civilised constraints were inapplicable by reason of armed conflict.

Law can provide boundaries within which weak characters can be dissuaded from stupid action and within which all men can discern the nature of what is socially acceptable and right behaviour.

My one fear is that this Bill attempts to go beyond what the law can achieve. In its wording it seeks to restrict the dissemination of pornography, but the small print of the Bill means that it would amount almost to a total prohibition. We cannot stop lascivious people from behaving lasciviously if they are determined to do so. Our duty is to protect right-minded people from offence. I support the Bill and would do so more wholeheartedly if I could be convinced that it would sharpen up the law in the right way. I believe that it will perhaps have a contrary effect. However, I am hoping for the best. I am listening carefully to the debate. I support the Bill because I believe that this House is capable of improving it where it needs to be improved and of countering anything in it which is counter-productive.

6.29 p.m.

Lord Tranmire

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has thrown down a challenge which I think is a far stronger challenge than the one given by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, in his formal amendment. I have been through this matter and I know the difficulties to which he alluded. For 25 years we have had a period during which there has been a large minority who have said that the right way to deal with this question is to remember that the permissive society is a civilised society. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford on choosing this day for the introduction of his Bill—the day after the debate on law and order, in which we had the remarkable maiden speech of the learned Lord Chief Justice, and the same day as polling in the Hillhead by-election, where the permissive society's disciples are engaged.

After all, my Lords, think of the history of it all. In 1959 a Private Member's Bill was introduced in the House of Commons, in order to secure a certain amount of permissiveness in dealing with borderline literature. That is how it began. It was then sent to a Select Committee of the House of Commons, and I was a Member of that Select Committee. We thought we had got it right. The Director of Public Prosecutions told us how worried he was at that time by the spread of pornography and the large fortunes which were then being made, in the year 1957, out of pornography. All our efforts quite clearly failed, and that is why the right reverend Prelate is right to challenge us on this Bill and say, "Have you got it right this time?".

When the Williams Committee came to look at the position, in their Chapter 4, paragraph 4, they said that the Director of Public Prosecutions had commented —and that was some 20 years after my experience—it was now quite impossible to be certain of securing a conviction by a jury of even what he considered to be a grossly obscene article. That really is my answer, I think, to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, who, in a very sympathetic speech, yet did not seem to think that there was any need for further legislation. As the learned Lord Chief Justice pointed out, there is a flood of pornography coming into this country and we have done nothing to stop it. It is now three years since we had the Williams Report, but nothing has been done to strengthen the law in this respect on what were then called obscene publications but what is more rightly called pornography.

My answer to the challenge of the right reverend Prelate is that in that committee, of which I eventually became the chairman, in the evidence we received from those who were interested in these matters and who wanted to get the right balance between the suppression of pornography and the suppression of freedom, we were told that the words chosen by Mr. Roy Jenkins in his Bill, "to deprave and corrupt", were not necessarily right. I remember that the evidence we received from Sir Alan Herbert—A. P. Herbert—was that he thought we were wrong to talk about obscenity; it would have been right to have talked about pornography. In his evidence, in Appendix 4 to the Select Committee's Report, he drafted what he thought would be the right approach in dealing with hard porn.

The terminology selected by my noble friend Lord Nugent is not unlike the terminology used by Sir Alan Herbert. A. P. H. used "prurient" rather than "lascivious". It was on that sort of basis. This is also the basis of the legislation, alluded to by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, in Atlanta, Georgia. They have used very similar language to that used in this Bill, and the result there has been that the porn shops have been closed. There was a very effective campaign by the solicitor-general in Atlanta, Georgia, and there was a report on it, which many of your Lordships will have seen, in The Times of today.

I would therefore suggest that this is worth a trial. Where we failed in the Obscene Publications Act was by putting in the provision dealing with what we called in our report the literary and artistic merit but what later became, in the Government Bill, the "public good" defence. That put a loophole right through the Act, so that porn still flooded in. No doubt as we go through this Bill at the later stages we can take up the challenge of the right reverend Prelate and see that it is made even more effective. But I think the House will generally find that this Bill is designed to get over some of the weaknesses that we experienced 25 years ago.

Of course, the difficulty will be in the timetable, to get this Bill through in time. It is starting late. But I would make an appeal to my noble friend the Minister that when you have the Williams Report saying that the Director of Public Prosecutions finds that one cannot prosecute articles that are grossly obscene, then there is a responsibility on the Government to take up their challenge. Where the Williams Committee went wrong was, I think, made quite clear in the speech of the Lord Chief Justice yesterday, when he said that the written word does no harm. If that is so, then, of course, this Bill is on the wrong lines, and undoubtedly all our previous efforts have been, too. We believe the written word has got to be attacked: and those who make large fortunes out of the written word—

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I interrupt the noble Lord only because I think he would want me to. The inference of his speech—and I am sure he did not mean it—is that what he objected to had been said by the Lord Chief Justice and not by the Williams Committee. I wondered whether he would like to make it clear that he was criticising the Williams Committee in regard to the written word, and not the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice.

Lord Tranmire

I am sorry, my Lords, it is my stupidity. It is in my notes. What the Lord Chief Justice was saying is that there was a flood of written material that was causing young people to commit sexual crimes, and I am sorry if I did not make that clear. The Williams Committee said that they found the written word did not have that effect; that it happens with pictorial representations, but not with the written word. I thought the conclusive evidence was what the learned Lord Chief Justice said yesterday.

Therefore, I really think it is beholden on the Government, with the failure of the 1959 Act and with the failure, as I see it, of the permissive approach to these matters, and looking at what has been done in countries like America in certain states, to make an attack on what is now a disgrace in Britain, and that is the spread of pornography and its effect on violent and sexual crimes. I would therefore ask my noble friend to attack this problem and either to adopt what I would call the A. P. Herbert approach on dissemination of pornography or—and this is the one way you can really deal effectively with it—to take the profit out of porn. This is a very big industry at the present time. Large fortunes are being made.

Therefore, as large fortunes are being made, there is a very strong lobby against dealing with porn. I think we have been far too long in waiting before taking action.

6.40 p.m.

Lord MacLeod of Fuinary

My Lords, this is a Bill to assist the abolition of pornographic literature and pornographic devices. I make no apology for speaking in directly Christian terms. After all, we cannot exist as a House, we cannot legislate, without a previous obeisance to Christ. That Christ is king of kings, lord of lords and the only ruler of princes, is part of our constitutional agreement. It is in this sense, in the light of His teaching, that we are to legislate in all things. Yet we sometimes—and, I believe, increasingly at the present time—seem in our legislation to defy even two or three of the Ten Commandments such as, "Thou shalt not kill", "Thou shalt not covet" and, Thou shalt not commit adultery". It is the declension in our common judgement that makes this Bill an absolute necessity.

I think that your Lordships will agree that one of the commonest phrases that people use today is, "What's the matter"? "What's the matter in this respect, or in that respect"? What is the matter, for instance, just to make a major point, in this phrase: "Thou shalt not kill"? We speak of atomic warfare, to which as a nation we seem to be legally committed. For centuries, we could not as a nation go to war except it was justified. The end justified the means. But today we would all agree, I think, with the Pope, who recently said that it is impossible to conceive of a just war in a nuclear age. Yet we are spending millions on preparing for just such an occasion.

"What's the matter?" Let me put it in this way. Supposing the coming talks between America and Russia were to come to nothing. Supposing that, instead, there was an ominous crisis and the possibility of a nuclear holocaust coming soon. Let us suppose that the Government decided to conscript not just the Territorial Army but all the adults in the country because we are in this situation. Let us suppose that the issue is: who is to launch from the submarine the missile which will kill 200,000 people in the course of a morning? Let us suppose that the Government were to decide that this is going to be done by vote, by rota; and let us suppose that you get a letter to say that you are asked, indeed ordered, to go to a certain submarine base because in the course of the next week you may be called upon to launch the missile. Would you go? Would you launch it? What would you launch it for? Would it be to prove the superiority of the Christian West against atheist, communist Russia? Would this be the way in which we would move?

In the unlikely event of our so moving, and in the extremely unlikely event of our recognisably winning—because everyone now maintains that once you start, no one can win a nuclear war; or in the words of Martin Luther King, "It is either non-violence, or nonexistence"—can your Lordships imagine any young Russian suggesting for one moment that he would wish to join the Christian church, when the Christian church has been part and parcel of the organisation by which we killed 200,000 people in the course of a morning?

Or, my Lords, to leave the issue of peace and to raise the question of the morality of our worsening situation, let us go to the issue of plenitude, of the prosperity of the West against the poverty of the third world. Let us take the phrase "Thou shalt not covet", or take the phrase in its local sense. in a certain industry in this country where not long ago the smallest wage paid to anyone was £90 a week, employees went on strike for a 38 per cent. increase in their wages. The managing director of the firm said that, in the first place, they could not afford it and, in the second place, they might be able to afford 3.8 per cent. but not 38 per cent. This was the reply of the managing director. Unfortunately, a fortnight later, in another newspaper, the issue was made clear that his own salary had been put up from £20,000 a year to £40,000 a year—which looks rather like an increase of 100 per cent. So that it is no wonder that the trade unions do not care what managing directors say about patriotism and about our economic situation.

Or, on a more serious level in this question of the third world, do we grasp the extent to which some big businesses in this country do not want the Brandt Report to be fulfilled, do not want the third world to be made more prosperous, more self-supporting; do not want anything except that they, because of their poverty and our wealth, should be the place where we send our surplus goods? How many of the managing directors know that last year—and I have all the details here from UNICEF—17 million children under five died of starvation in the third world? If these big business men really knew that the alternative to re-creating the third world as going properties was 17 million children to die of starvation every year—and it is happening again this year—would they really go on asking that Brandt be disregarded? These facts are but a background to our common moral debility.

Finally, coming nearer to our subject, is there anything more appalling than the situation relating to, "Thou shalt not commit adultery"? It is not a matter of peace or of plenty but of purity or, alternatively, of permissiveness. What's the matter? A recent Times article in January of this year pointed out that of all the couples coming now to the altar to be married more than half indulged in sexual intercourse before marriage, and often, when their activities had gone wrong, they had gone in for abortion. Everyone knows that the height of joy is for a young married woman to see before her her first-born child and to rejoice that she is part of creation. But if you go to the other end of that kind of thought, the other end of the scale, what is the extent of the sadness when things have gone wrong and the necessity for abortion comes up?

This problem becomes numerically immense. I have not got the figures for this country but I have them for America; and in America last year there were 3,500,000 live births—wonderful consequences of beautiful marriages. But how many abortions would you think there were'' There were 4 million-4 million abortions in America in the course of one year. What does that amount to in cumulative sadness? What does that amount to in those who insist on taking drugs to forget about it? What does that amount to regarding the kind of violence that we were discussing in this House yesterday, as drugs were also being discussed? What is the appalling dimension of abortion in the present situation and, because of the frustration, the rape? How many of the people who are making easy money out of this kind of literature grasp the extent to which they are responsible for people getting so desperate that, to their own amazement, they find that they have committed rape?

This is the declension in our moral standards of what we have to take into account. What is the matter, my Lords? I can tell your Lordships very shortly what is the matter. It is not in the words of any theologian, it is in the words of the greatest scientist of this century, Einstein. There is no such thing as dead matter, Einstein said. He said the ultimate form of matter is light energy, as we all know. The ultimate form of matter is the atom. It is exciting news for the Christian, is it not? Christ who is the light of the world, not just the light of the Church; Christ who is the life of the world, not just the life of the individual converted soul.

Christ is in and through the whole material situation. There is no such thing as dead matter and therefore there is an end completely to spirituality on one side and materialism on the other. The two have been coming together. Religion is about bodies: "Thou shalt not commit adultery"; religion is about political bodies: "Thou shalt not steal land in the third world from the people in order that their children by the million may die".

This is the situation in an absurdly simple instance. It may be that you are alone in a house and you wake up one night with an unbelievable pain in your kneecap and you cannot get up and you cannot send for anybody; and then you go back to the Bible and you think, well, Christ sent his angels and his angels come and touch people and such people are healed. But that is not the truth since this scientist spoke. Like life, the atom is in and through the corpuscles of the kneecap. This is the new situation in which we find ourselves today.

Essentially, pornographic material should be abolished not because of prudery, not in defiance of freedom, but essentially to make a number of young people stop from drug-taking, stop from violence and crime and find the new life. One of the great assistances to the bad life is pornographic literature.

6.54 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I am going to be commendably short. The noble Lord, Lord Macleod of Fuinary, will forgive me if I do not follow him into the questions of nuclear explosions. I was under the impression that this debate was about the sex explosion, and I shall try and keep to that point.

I heard some of the debate yesterday on law and order—a subject on which I used to speak at one time. What saddened me was that I thought that the trouble with that debate was that we have closed the stable door too late, for the horse has gone. Ever since the war there has been a continual rise of promiscuity and pornography, and the permissive society has been to all intents and purposes unchecked. Plenty of your Lordships at the time, including myself, sounded these warnings again and again. But nothing was done about it. We now find ourselves in this permissive atmosphere, as my noble friend Lord Nugent brilliantly pointed out in his speech; I entirely agreed with every word of it. I apologise for not being able to hear the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, but I had to attend an appointment.

We heard in the debate yesterday of the deterrent effect of longer jail sentences and severer sentencing and that this will be put into effect. But it is a sad way to have to cure crime. One does not want an even vaster number of people being shut up. But, that has to be done in the case of violent criminals. How much better it would have been if we had taken this matter in hand earlier.

I think that sex education in schools was a bad idea. It would be far better for the family to deal with that. Regarding sex shops, I have seen the entrance to a sex shop but I have never entered one. I should have done so, bearing in mind that I am speaking in this debate. However, the entrance to the shop alone struck me as repulsive. Therefore, I am rather ignorant on this matter. It is not quite my line of country. But what is my line of country is that for years I have been sad—if that is the right word—at the decline in all our moral standards. In the 1930s—when I was very young—one could leave an unlocked parked car in London with suitcases in it. It would be very rare that anything would be taken. There was hardly any rape, and there were no muggings. There was some burglary with violence, but it was very rare. There was burglary, but it occurred far less than today.

I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for whom I have a great admiration. He has a great knowledge of the law. He said the 1959 Act really covered everything in my noble friend's Bill. I spoke on the 1959 Act in this House several times. The fact is that the 1959 Act has not achieved what it set out to achieve. I should not be speaking on the law, but, in my experience, we have on the whole very good laws though they do not always achieve what they set out to achieve. One of the reasons is that we have some very clever lawyers who are able to convince juries that black is white. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, knows what I am driving at!

We missed our chance to control the permissive society after the war; but now, we have a comparatively new industry—sex shops—if one can call it an industry. To my mind, anyone who makes money out of sex, sex shops or pornography, hard or soft, is—and I use a hard word—scum. These people are absolute scum. We have a chance now, as this has only been going for eight or 10 years, and, if we could nip it in the bud, future generations might applaud us. But the money in it is so great and the trade is so profitable; and when you have big money behind anything you get powerful lobbies, and especially in another place. If we take betting shops—I bet myself but do not go into betting shops—I do not think that betting shops are a good thing because it is in the areas of highest unemployment that they thrive most and make the highest profits. However, I must not be sidetracked on that.

I think that the question of pornography in this country is very important. If I were a dictator—which I have no wish to be and I am perfectly certain I never could be one—I would ban organised pornography completely because if you half ban it, and have "hard porn" and "soft porn", it is difficult to achieve the control you want to achieve. It is very difficult legally to distinguish between hard and soft porn, and it can be easy for lawyers to twist the law a little. When I talk about "lawyers" I do not of course mean any Members of your Lordships' House, but I have met one or two lawyers who I thought should not be lawyers, or at the very least they were in the wrong profession.

I have spoken long enough but I should like once again to congratulate my noble friend on bringing forward this Bill. Of course, if you produce Bills of this kind you lay yourself open to ridicule because they cannot be argued against logically. We hear a lot of talk about the freedom of the individual, but after all you are not allowed to drive in a built-up area at 60 miles an hour—although of course the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, might say that the liberty of the subject is infringed because you cannot. Equally, you are not allowed to take hard drugs; and I could quote many other examples. So I do not go along with the argument that we are infringing the freedom or liberty of the subject. I will now sit down, and just congratulate my noble friend a third time on introducing this Bill.

7.3 p.m.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, is much to be congratulated on his endeavours to free our cities and towns of pornographic material and sex advertisements, which stare at one down so many streets. It is an insult to the human spirit and a degrading of women into mere toys. The trade is very much in evidence, and the sex shops scandal has raised a nationwide outcry. I have read that even where residents have protested the local authorities have allowed sex shops to open. Is this because the local authorities have not enough power, or feel they have not, to refuse them a licence?

In the last four years some legislation has been passed. For instance, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has already mentioned, the Protection of Children Act 1978 has outlawed one of the worst varieties of obscene material—child pornography. Again, the Indecent Displays (Control) Act outlaws much of the display of offensively pornographic material. Perhaps when the noble Lord the Minister replies he could tell us how effective the new Acts have been.

It would seem that the 1959 Act is not as strong as it might be. I understand that magistrates frequently order confiscation and destruction of material—books, magazines, films and video tapes—but the retailers very quickly re-stock, as profits are so great and there are large supplies of the material. I wonder whether there is some way in which the authors, owners or distributors of the material could equally be penalised with the retailers. Surely until the sources of supply are cleared up as much as possible there will always be willing retailers. I should like to see an amending Act to strengthen the 1959 Act, perhaps by incorporating parts of the Bill which is before your Lordships' House this evening.

I should like to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, on his most interesting maiden speech, and especially so as I have lived and travelled in many of the countries referred to—not only in Arabia but in Africa as well—and I agree with a great deal of what he has said. As it happens, I have a Tanzanian lawyer friend who, with his wife and baby son, is on his way home at this moment flying to Dar-es-Salaam. They are devout Christians and they found the pornographic material which is around offensive. They are also very concerned lest it should travel like some slow plague to their country.

There are one or two points I should like to make. Will Clause 1(1)(a) catch every business, great or small, which knowingly makes money out of pornography? For example, could a bookshop owner or newsagent with perhaps 5 per cent. of his stock consisting of pornographic material be considered to be running a business with the dissemination of pornography as "one of its objects", or could he not? For all the criticism that the 1959 Act has received, it was at least consistent and treated obscene material as morally wrong wherever it turned up, and anyone who had anything to do with it was made liable at law.

In 1973—nearly 10 years ago—the then Government received a nationwide petition for public decency. It bore more than 1½ million signatures. It asked for a strong, clear amendment to the obscenity law, and for broadcasting also to be made subject to it. As I understand it, nothing has been done. Surely one should be sensitive to 1 million signatures, whatever Government might be in power. However we decide to legislate on this subject, I very much hope that we shall give this Bill a Second Reading tonight.

7.7 p.m.

Viscount Barrington

My Lords, time is getting on and I am incapable of making a short speech. Therefore, I shall not try to make a speech at all but make just a few disjointed remarks. Of all the speeches I have heard, I agree with almost all of many of them, although there were a few things that I disagree with. Perhaps I might say to the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, that the only thing I disagreed with in what he said is that pornography is a new industry. I should have thought it was one of the oldest industries in the world. Of course, it has always been with us and has always made a certain amount of money. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, pointed out very clearly in his excellent opening speech, it is now making money on a different kind of scale and in a different kind of way as compared with what has happened in the past.

As we know, in this day and age things move so much faster and further that we have to be quicker; and that is why I say that there was almost nothing I disagreed with in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, except that, although he admitted it was plain there was a flood of poison coming in, he said that if he were the Dutch boy who putting his finger into the hole—which is already rather larger than any finger—he thought it was too early to put it in. I think there is quite a probability that it is too late, but that is not a good reason for not putting in as many fingers as we can.

The fact is that this Bill is both a defensive and a militant Bill, trying to turn back what everybody agrees is a trend—according to the speeches in this House most people think it is a very unpleasant, dangerous and poisonous trend. It is trying to push a trend in the opposite direction. We may not win that battle, but I agree that it is worth doing if we can.

I thought that the maiden speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, was extraordinarily interesting—I do not know if he is still in his place. It was of great quality and dealt so very thoroughly with another religious point of view. Whether he was right in saying that the Islamic point of view had been put only once in this House, or had not been put before, I do not know. But he put it very clearly on the grounds that there are certain absolutely fixed standards, quite apart from the standards that are changing. A contrast, and in some ways a corrective, was the speech of the right reverend Prelate, who I was glad to hear will vote for the Bill and who, like everybody, has certain reservations which can be discussed in Committee. He made two very interesting points.

My only qualification for speaking here is that there have been innumerable debates on pornography, and I have taken part in most of them. This is the first time that something constructive has been put down. I tried to abbreviate my views about the position some time ago, in the form of a clerihew which went: The art of science or pornography, Has something in common with geography. Either is fine, If one knows where to draw the line". That is out of date in relation to this Bill, because we are not talking about pornography as an art or a science, but as an industry. So one would have to change that to something like: The science of publishing or disseminating pornography, Is rather like publishing a biography. Either is squalid or funny, If it makes enough money". That is one of the dangers. It is clearly one of the easiest ways of making money out of something, and I do not believe there has been a dissenting voice to the fact that it is the wrong way to do it.

I am always delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, because he speaks so well. I agree with him strongly on some things, but I disagree with him on this, as on abortion. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, believes that it is a healthy thing not to sweep pornography under the carpet. But if you do not sweep it under the carpet, you spread it around and out into outer space. It is difficult to know what to do about it, and one has to keep a balance. Where I would differ from him is about the trend. The trend at the moment is still violently and strongly in the way of what is called liberalism and freedom—and I had better mention that, though I am speaking from the Liberal Benches, I am not speaking for them and it is understood that I am speaking entirely for myself—but one can overdo the idea of freedom for everyone necessarily being a good thing. That point was made clearly by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury. Freedom for one means lack of freedom for others.

People are apt to forget—and this arises on some other questions about the proper courts to decide these matters—that a trend is decided by every decision of a jury, after the advice of expert lawyers and judges. Nobody could have given a better unofficial judgment than the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice in his magnificent speech yesterday. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for having read it in full, because it was most admirably put. A jury has to decide a case, and in doing that it is very often making law as well as obeying it.

Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, I think that this House contains a certain number of younger people than the other place, though, in all modesty, I must say that we are not up to their political standards. But it contains a fairly mixed number of clever, stupid, good, bad and, I hope, well-meaning people. I think that we are as good a jury as any to discover a trend. That is why the sooner this Motion goes to the vote the better, because we shall be forming a trend.

As there has been a certain amount of quotation of verse in this House, I should like to conclude with a verse which is not my own. One that is my own is about changing standards and changing times, and whoever happens to own the standards or the times at the moment. The standards of battle have sometimes been changed by treason. Everybody remembers the definition by, I think, Sir John Harington: Treason can never prosper for this reason, That when it prospers none dare call it treason". I think one could say something like, Pornography cannot pay, The trade or traffic. Cannot, if it pays, Be known as pornographic". That is incidental. When something begins to succeed and goes on succeeding, people gradually come to accept it.

The verses I should like to read are from a very long poem. There are only four of them, so I guarantee that I shall keep within 10 minutes. They are by an Edwardian poet, and about an apparently losing cause a long time ago, when King Alfred happened, against all the odds, to win a battle against the Danes, who were represented in the poem as the threatening forces of destruction. Having won that battle, he was very much rebuked 20 years later by a young man who said "This is intolerable. The Danes are coming back. We have not defeated them for good". Alfred pointed to the White Horse, which was getting weeds on it and was abnormally scarred. The verses which I should like to read are these: Though I give this land to Our Lady That helped me in Athelney, Though lordlier trees and lustier sod And happier hills has no man trod, Than the garden of the Mother of God Between Thame-side and the sea, I know that weeds shall grow in it Faster than men can burn, And though they scatter now and go In some far century sad and slow, I have a vision and I know The heathen shall return. They shall not come with warships, They shall not waste with brands, But books be all their eating And ink be on their hands. But though they come with scrolls and pen And grave as a shaven clerk By this sign you shall know them, That they ruin and make dark. By thought a crawling ruin, By life a leaping mire By a broken heart in the breast of the world And the end of the world's desire, By God and man dishonoured By death and life made vain Know we the old Barbarian, The Barbarian come again ". I would certainly not accuse the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, of being a barbarian, except in the best sense of the word. He has immense courage and conviction and is always capable of being converted. I hope that he will be converted, because I know he will get to heaven before I do.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I did not say that pornography was a new industry. I am not so foolish as that. What I said was that sex shops in this country were a comparatively new industry.

7.19 p.m.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, it is getting late and I do not intend to be very long. There is one point which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has raised yet again; that is, that it is only the elderly who are concerned with this subject. I have pointed out in your Lordships' House before that those of my generation, and even younger, are concerned with it. On this occasion, I have taken the trouble to look at Dod to see when the noble Lord was born, and I found that it would have been quite possible, with our age disparity, for him to have been my grandfather. So I am some way his junior.

I have been in touch with the Secondary Heads' Association, who for some time have been very concerned about the effect that pornography and obscenity are having on young children. As your Lordships will know, they deal with children from the age of 11 until the time they leave school. It is against the law to sell pornographic magazines and products to them, but it is not difficult for these children to get hold of them. The representative to whom I spoke, having questioned children who had been found in his own school with pornographic magazines, discovered that they had bought them quite freely at various shops. He did not tell me what shops, so I am not able to tell your Lordships. But it seems to me that this Bill is one of the best ways of attacking pornography at its source and so preventing it from getting into the hands of young people. In this respect, perhaps we should remember one of the lines from the Lord's Prayer: Lead us not into temptation If tempted, people will always fall. Some are better at resisting temptation than others. But the young are inexperienced and very much more easily persuaded to try something which is new and not necessarily right. I was shown by the representative of the Secondary Heads' Association what he considered to be the worst magazine that he had ever seen. It had been taken off a 12 year-old in his school and it was found that he had been able to buy it over the counter at a local shop. One of the things that the headmaster objected to was a list of contact addresses in the magazine so that children and young people could contact adults. They had to be adults in order to advertise in the magazine. Quite obviously, this left the children open to the serious danger of being ill-treated and led into ways of life in relation to sex which were not at all desirable. Another example was a 14 year-old girl who was found at school with a number of pornographic magazines. And—surprise, surprise—a few months later she was found to be pregnant. So there is in my mind a connection between the two: you read about it and you go out and practise it.

One of the other things that appear in many of these magazines is not just sex in its various forms but photographs of violence and articles describing violence. I was told of a young boy who had had confiscated from him at school a number of pornographic magazines, in some instances depicting violence. Later on, at a disturbance which was filmed and shown on television, he was seen carrying a pickhelve, and was identified by this headmaster.

It may not be known to your Lordships, though it is probably known to my noble friend Lord Belstead, that at the London overseas mail office incoming mail is inspected by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise and that the two most important things they are looking for are drugs and—this is growing very rapidly—obscene and pornographic literature and video films. I was there some months ago, and because I was already at that time interested in my nobls friend Lord Nugent's Bill I was shown parts of two films which they had confiscated and which they were investigating. I had imagined what blue films might he like, but I was taken completely by surprise by what I was shown. I was told that they were very mild indeed.

This material is considered, I think, by most of your Lordships to be detrimental to children and other young people, but what interested me was that the customs officers could opt out of the duty of examining video films, magazines and other pornographic literature. They did not have to take part in its examination. If they were willing to take part in its examination they were allowed to do so only for a very limited length of time; because it was considered to have a bad effect on them they could not go on doing it for very long. It might be that after some months they would go back to that duty but, again, it would be only for a very limited length of time.

With that in mind, and as I believe Her Majesty's Customs and Excise come under the Home Office, I hope my noble friend Lord Belstead will be able to support the Bill at this stage, even if he disagrees with the way in which it has been drafted, so that it can go through your Lordships' House, and on to other stages, and eventually be passed down to the other place. I hope your Lordships will support the Bill.

The Marquess of Tweeddale

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether the instances which he has given us of children and pornography do not provide a case more for the protection of children than for the wholesale banning of pornography for such adults as may want it?

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Marquess. I would agree that they provide a case for the protection of children, but I was also told that, where children had got into trouble with the police, it was very often found when the police went to their homes that quite a lot of pornographic material, in the way of magazines, was in the home, a number of the magazines illustrating violence as well as various forms of sexual deviation. And it is not necessarily kept away from the children. They have free access to it.

7.28 p.m.

Viscount Ingleby

My Lords, I should like to ask your Lordships two questions. The first one is: Do your Lordships think it just a coincidence that all the recent mass murderers in the United States have been readers of pornography? There was Charles Manson, who organised the killing of Sharon Tate; there was the Son of Sam, whose bed, when he was arrested, was found to be covered with pornographic material; there was Charles Whitman, who killed 13 people at the University of Texas at Austin before he could be stopped; there was Gacey—30 bodies were found hidden in his basement—and there was Speck, who killed eight nurses.

My other question, which I should like to address to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is this: if the 1959 Act is adequate, then why was it necessary for the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice to say what he said yesterday?

7.29 p.m.

Lady Saltoun

My Lords, I should like to join with others in congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, on an interesting and learned maiden speech. I would wholeheartedly support his observation that right and wrong do not change with the times. They are the same for ever.

To turn to the Bill, Clause 1 is really the whole Bill. The other clauses are concerned with implementing Clause 1. In some cases they will need amending, particularly if the Bill is to apply to Scotland, which I very much hope will he the case. I think it is intended that it should do, but the legal machinery and the personnel who operate that machinery are quite different from those in England and Wales. For example, we do not have the public prosecutor but we have the procurator fiscal. Those problems can be dealt with at Committee stage.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who is not in his place at present, opposes this Bill on the grounds that it interferes with the freedom of the individual. May I respectfully remind him, when he reads Hansard, that on the question of the freedom of the individual to wear a seatbelt or not, he voted against that freedom. That freedom was giving freedom, possibly, to hurt oneself and not to injure others. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, mentioned the distinction between what is criminal and what is immoral. I would respectfully suggest that the boundaries between what is criminal and what is immoral or ethical might lie in whether an act is harmful to others or merely to oneself.

Public concern has increased in the past 20 years or so, particularly among parents, at the kind of books, magazines, photographs, films, records and, now, cassettes to which their offspring are being exposed. All over the country people are looking to Parliament to put paid to the proliferation of pornography. If your Lordships' House supports this Bill, I believe that it will earn the respect and gratitude of the vast majority of people in this country. I therefore give this Bill my wholehearted support.

7.32 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, two and a half minutes seems about par for the course at the moment, and I have every reason for hoping that is correct because I was due some time ago to go and propose the health of my niece, who is being married some little way from here. What can I say in two and a half minutes? I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury. How can I describe them in this connection? I might describe them, if we are to introduce classical language, as the great Castor and Pollux of the battle against pornography. It is a matter of tremendous joy for me to think that the torch which dropped from my palsied hands 10 years ago has been grabbed by these fresh, virile young figures. It is a wonderful thought that they have taken this on. I feel rather as Lord Randolph Churchill might have done had he lived to see Winston Churchill become Prime Minister. Randolph Churchill, it may be remembered, finished in a state of collapse and died in rather ignominious circumstances. But think how he would have felt at seeing Winston take over, and so I am very honoured to feel that I have helped with many others to pave the way.

The other day, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, was kind enough to quote me as saying that if he had not existed it would have been necessary to invent him. At times I have felt that was true, and at other times I have felt it was not so true. I am still anxious to get off to this wedding reception, and therefore the idea of the noble Lord insisting on a Division when 20 out of 21 speakers, or whatever the number is, have already voted against him does get me down. But it is a free country and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, is a great champion of freedom—at any rate, when it is appropriate to his purposes. If he does insist on a Division, I must remain and I must suffer. Christians are accustomed to suffering from Humanists and therefore we must take that medicine as we can.

The one point I should like to make is in regard to the speech made by my noble friend Lord Mishcon. It began, I thought, nobly and was pure alpha, but I think it would be necessary to vie with him in university language about the conclusion of his speech. But at least the opening was noble. My noble friend Lord Mishcon brought out very one important point, and for the record of this debate it should not be lost sight of. Clause 1(1) of the Bill states that it shall be an offence for a person: (a) to carry on in Great Britain a business having for its object, or one of its objects, the dissemination of pornography with a view to making profits". That is a limited target. It is a more limited target than, for example, the one we attempted to assault in 1971–72 in our pornography inquiry. We were faced with the argument, and it was the most difficult argument facing me, of what would be have done with James Joyce's Ulysses if we had been in charge at the time of its publication. No one is going to produce an artistic, moral or social defence for pornographers. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, is in a rather unenterprising position because he says, "I do not care whether it is good or bad pornography—I have not seen it." If one is dealing with this subject, to make no effort to study it seems a rather unenterprising approach; but that is by the way.

I am simply saying that, in my opinion, this is a sensible move in the battle against pornography. The battle for pornography, one might say, will go on forever—but here at least we have isolated part of the evil, and a part that is totally indefensible. For that, and for many other reasons, I support the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford.

7.37 p.m.

The Duke of Norfolk

My Lords, I must apologise for not being here for the beginning of this debate, but I have been in Birmingham and was able to return only a few moments ago. There is no question but that this Bill has the will of the whole country—the overwhelming will of the whole country. It seeks to curb the vile trade that goes on of exploiting men's and women's sex and making money out of it, and so proliferating this subject endlessly. It has been said by many of your Lordships, and felt by everybody, that two terrible things result from pornography. One is the enormous increase in violence. Your Lordships heard the noble and learned Lord Chief Justice's excellent speech, and I need say no more. The second evil of pornography is that it is an assault on the family. The family is the central human unit and anything which assaults family life is something that does our country great harm. I have no hesitation in saying that I wholeheartedly support this Bill.

7.38 p.m.

Lord Robertson of Oakridge

My Lords, this Bill aims to deal with those who run the pornography trade and make money out of it. As indicated yesterday in the highly instructive speech made by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, this is the right target. In his interesting speech today, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell, based his reservations on the need to legislate to make people good. This is not what this Bill aims to do. It aims to control a multimillion pound industry, and there is nothing particularly strange about that—it is a perfectly normal procedure.

May I presume to pick up the point raised by the noble Marquess, Lord Tweeddale, on the protection of children. As I understand it, the Protection of Children Act 1978 was not designed to protect children from reading pornography, but rather from being exploited in the making of pornography—a very different matter. I therefore believe that this Bill tackles the right target and, although I feel that it has room for some improvement in detail, I hope it is given a Second Reading today.

I would just like to say a few words on the points to which I believe further consideration might be given, possibly to improve the Bill. These lie in the definition of pornography in paragraphs (a) and (b) of Clause 1(2). As I see it, pornography has two main characteristics. First, it has an effect on the conduct of the consumer of the pornography by arousing lascivious appetites; secondly, like any other form of pollution, it causes disgust and offence. How does the Bill's definition meet these points? On the first point I think it does so well, with one qualification. That qualification concerns the word "gratify", which I believe will be very difficult to interpret in the courts, and I also feel that it may not convey quite the right idea. It is not the gratification of lascivious appetites that one fears but their stimulation and heightening. The danger of pornography is that it can stimulate or heighten sexual appetites to the point where they get out of control, and harm results, including harm to other people.

Mention was made in the right reverend Prelate's speech of the Williams Committee. Despite powerful evidence to the contrary, the Williams Committee was not convinced that there was a connection between pornography and its evil effects and crime. As a result, I feel this is where they started to go astray, because they thereby missed the essential evil in pornography; and this is why their report met with considerably less than unanimous approval in your Lordships' House, and I think in the other place, too. Commonsense dictates that pornography leads to misbehaviour, and the connection between pornography and crime was of course underlined yesterday by the Lord Chief Justice. It is therefore possible that some more emphasis might be put on this question of stimulating or heightening appetites. I know the word "arouse" is there, but some more emphasis might be put in place of the word "gratify".

Furthermore, I wonder whether the word "lascivious" brings out sufficiently the all-important cruelty ingredient of some pornography. It is not only the sexual element that needs to be considered. Latent evil in men can be stirred up by pornography also, in the form of cruelty and violence.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, the noble Lord will forgive me for pointing this out—I do not want to take up time—but there is at the bottom of page 1, a reference to sadistic and masochistic practices.

Lord Robertson of Oakridge

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for that intervention. Indeed, that is quite right. I wonder whether it ought not to come in subsection (2)(a) as well, but I may well be open to correction there.

May I now deal with the second characteristic of pornography and how the definition deals with it. Here my reservation concerns the phrase "abuse of public tolerance". I fully see what is the aim of that phrase, but again it might be difficult to interpret. Surely under this heading the material which we want to control is the kind that is patently offensive and disgusting in the treatment of sexual conduct. I believe it ought to be possible so to phrase subsection (2)(b) as to bring in that thought.

Incidentally, I would like to say here how grateful I am sure we all are to the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, for his speech pointing out how offensive pornography is to some of our visitors, and I think this should cause us to pause quite appreciably for reflection. Because pornographic material can stimulate sexual appetites without necessarily being offensive, and I believe the reverse is certainly true, it is just possible that subsection (2)(a) and (b) might be made as alternatives rather than both "and".

My Lords, whatever the fate of this Bill, I am sure that we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for emphasising the need for an overhaul of the obscenity laws. I hope we can look to the Government for early action, either in support of this Bill or in bringing out proposals of their own.

7.46 p.m.

Lord Milverton

My Lords, I rise to give support to my noble friend Lord Nugent. Lord Nugent has prepared this Bill in a very thorough and reasonable way. The voice of concern over the effect and influence of the dissemination of pornography needs every so often to be clearly heard, in fact has the right to be heard, to balance the arguments expressed as a result of opposing views.

The human body deserves to be treated with honour and human personalities demand a respect that credits every person with the ability to reach higher ways. The individual deserves to be given a respect and dignity which dissemination of pornography does not do. The latter in a subtle way entices the weak and easily led because it plays upon feelings and emotions which are basically healthy. The vulnerable need to be protected. People as a whole need to be reminded of the higher ideals and encouraged to live by them.

There is ample evidence from magazines and newspapers that this matter of the dissemination of pornography is a problem to be tackled, for what has been done previously is insufficient. I quote first of all from the Daily Telegraph of last Saturday: Pupils run gauntlet of Soho sex and violence. The headmaster of a Soho primary school which has a sex shop next door said yesterday that his pupils were confronted with pornography, sex shop touts, knife-carrying prostitutes and violence. A planning appeal heard that teachers had been approached for sex and that sometimes the police were called to get parents and children safely through football fans attracted to the red light area. The Rev. David Barton, head of St. James and St. Peter's Primary School in Great Windmill Street, said the 66 children, aged three to 11, could face difficulty coming to 'a balanced sexual attitude' later in life. He continued: 'Children do have some difficulty if they live in Soho coming to a balanced sexual attitude. So many of these places are sleazy, furtive and joyless' ". It seems to me that it is a very poor influence for children to come across at an early age.

Also I will quote from "Making it Hot for Porn", from the American news magazine Newsweek of 25th May 1981: He's been called an over zealous prude, but Henson McAuliffe, 61 years old solicitor general of Georgia's Fulton County, has done a remarkable thing; in a 12 year, one man crusade, he has largely driven pornography out of Atlanta. The city's last 3 'triple X rated' movie houses closed last month and 19 adult bookstores shut their doors in January. Not a peep show, porn shop or X rated remains. 'It just wasn't worth it, economically or politically, to try to remain open', says Attorney Glenn Zell, who unsuccessfully defended dozens of theatres and book-store owners. McAuliffe's chief weapon has been a tough state anti-obscenity law patterned after a landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision. In recent years McAuliffe has prosecuted so many porn brokers that the state courts set aside one week each month to hear the cases". One has evidence, not surprisingly, that many people not only find pornography as a twisting or a distortion of what is basically good, but would welcome anything that helps to put asunder its dissemination. In the United States in Georgia, it has been shown that in Fulton County this can be done. This is shown to be so by a letter written to Mrs. Mary Whitehouse giving the details of how Fulton County in Georgia State has done it.

I should like to quote from the Family Bulletin which deals with an incident in Sheffield which shows that if one's mind and everything else is put towards that end we can overcome this problem. It says: On a wet Monday night (November 2nd), six hundred people packed into the Town Hall to hear the Mayor, Councillor Robert Finney, JP, several other Councillors, Labour and Conservative, Church Leaders of different denominations, business people, head-teachers, doctors and mothers all express their opposition to the shop in clear blunt terms. After the meeting, a St. Helens Action Group of 120 protesters was formed and set up headquarters at the YMCA Building. A petition, calling on Central and Local Government to take immediate action to control sex shops, was launched and over 17,000 signatures were collected within three weeks It goes on to say: The Action Group decided to remain in being to continue the fight against pornography and other corrupting influences on the young". We who are concerned over this subject are not killjoys. In fact, the reverse is true. We wish to enable people, especially young people, to discover the right values and the real joys in life. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, about the reasons for opposing the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and I agree with the excellent way in which he defined "freedom". I also, with others, would like to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, for his wonderful maiden address to us. In conclusion, I hope that this House will give a Second Reading to the Bill of my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford.

7.52 p.m.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, at this late hour there is little to add except that it is proper, I think, to record one's appreciation of a memorable maiden speech by the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, who I am happy to say is a distant relative of mine. I hope that it does not embarrass him to hear me say that. We heard a speech of sincerity with vivid mastery of language, bejewelled with the poetry of the desert. The noble Viscount focused on discipline, decorum, decency and dignity, which lie at the heart of our theme.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is not in his place because I would like to have twitted him for performing in his best style: oscillating like a metronome—which way will be come down?—and finding, in a phrase he used before, but I think he pinched it from me, a difficulty for every solution. But he was admirably answered by my noble friend Lord Tranmire. There was the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, his bashful eye disguising good intent, rising at 84 to defend a murky commercial interest that thrives on the sale of sludge—and on what excuse? I hoped that we would have heard some clichés that we have not heard before. Not a bit of it. We heard all the old ones: "There is a case for public discussion"; "We need more research"; "We need scientific evidence"; "This involves curbs on individual freedoms"; "This involves the erosion of liberty of the subject", and so on. I thought that he would at least bring in his deceased wife's sister who appeared in previous debates. Then there was his great answer. vivid in its humility, to the Edinburgh University students. Apparently he said that he was the only man in step.

This is a Bill about shame. "Man", said Hippolytus, "is a beast when shame stands off from him". Shame leaves us by degrees and modesty, once banished, knows no return. Where there is no shame there is no honour. In our country it has been said that there is a general flavour of decay—nothing local, as you might say—but we live amid a nation crestfallen in a marathon of mediocrity. I believe that the theme of the Bill, which is really a small step in the recovery of decency, is telling the world outside▀×where the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, feels discussion is needed—that we have truths to tell; a faith to spread: interests to defend; families to protect; and a people to serve.

7.56 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, your Lordships may be reassured to know that I have not risen to add another winding-up speech to this debate, but merely to raise one matter which should not take me more than a couple of minutes. Although I slightly regret that I have not decided to make a winding-up speech, I must say that this has been one of the debates in your Lordships' House which connoisseurs for years to come will treasure and will mine for the nuggets which your Lordships have produced from time to time, sometimes inadvertently and sometimes not so. To respond to it would have been a very great pleasure indeed. But it is not for that reason that I want to rise; nor even to say that I think that, even with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, the one case against this Bill has not been seriously put: the case that in fact we shall deal with this menace. I agree with noble Lords about that. We shall deal with the vile people who make such fortunes out of it; and I agree about that. But we shall deal with it better through liberty and freedom than we shall from laws which merely drive them further and further into corners and cause their making of money to be more successful. Why do they make money? They make money because they sell things which are against the law. There are two ways out of that impasse, and the other one has not been explored tonight.

The one thing that, I seriously want to do is to ask the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, not to divide the House on his amendment. I think that this House is getting more and more into a rather bad habit of denying Private Members' Bills a Second Reading. If never used to be the case. On the whole, as long as a Bill was reasonably sane and sensible and there was not an enormous body of opinion against its whole principle, we used to give Private Members' Bills a free run and amend them in Committee.

This is a serious Bill, well drafted, a pleasure to look at and a credit to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, who has put it forward. I believe that the House should give it a Second Reading even though I am not, myself, in sympathy with its aims. I hope that we shall give it a Second Reading. I hope that we shall, therefore, take the opportunity of amending it in Committee, because I think that there are areas in which it can he amended. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, whom otherwise I support on this issue, will see fit to take that course on this occasion.

8 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, I follow others of your Lordships in beginning by congratulating my noble friend Lord Nugent on his initiative in introducing this Bill. I should also like to express my appreciation of the maiden speech made by the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster. After his career in the Foreign Service, the noble Viscount is well qualified to say how the standards of obscenity and decency in this country strike someone returning from abroad. In his speech the noble Viscount did exactly that, with considerable effect; it was a speech which made a very valuable contribution to the debate this evening.

I am aware of the sincere commitment of my noble friend Lord Nugent to the reform of the legislation in this highly contentious field. In his speech, with his characteristic clarity, my noble friend also painted a vivid backcloth to the Bill, of a multi-million pound industry which, in the last few years, has spread its tentacles far beyond central London. The motivation for this is simple: to make money by pushing ever further back the boundaries of respectability and decency.

Against this background of intense commercial pressure, those charged with enforcing the law—whatever form it may take—are bound to be faced with a difficult task. But, as my noble friend has pointed out, the present legislation—and I refer, of course, to the Obscene Publications Acts 1959 and 1964—is widely felt to he unsatisfactory. Therefore, I think it is necessary, as a brief preliminary to the consideration of my noble friend's Bill, to examine for a moment to what extent and why this is so.

My noble friend Lord Tranmire, who, of course, was in at the birth of the 1959 Act, was absloutely right to remind your Lordships that the: tendency to deprave and corrupt", test in the 1959 Act has undoubtedly given rise to great difficulties of interpretation. But, real though the difficulties are, it is I think important to keep them in perspective. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, put the question of how the law operates fairly and clearly in the speech that he made. Even in the case of criminal proceedings under Section 2 of the 1959 Act, which are tried before a jury, the prosecuting authorities are very often successful. In 1980, for example, out of 118 persons proceeded against at the Crown Court for offences under the 1959 and 1964 Acts, 84 were found guilty, and the figure for 1979 was 35 found guilty out of 40 charged.

If one turns to forfeiture proceedings under Section 3 of the 1959 Act, one finds that the success rate is very high indeed. I understand that the Metropolitan Police estimate that forfeiture orders are made in 95 per cent. or more of the cases in which they bring Section 3 proceedings. It will give some idea of the quantity of material involved when I say that in 1981 the Metropolitan Police seized over 550,000 articles, and that excludes over 650,000 articles which were seized in one operation last September. Therefore, while it would be wrong to underestimate the difficulties posed by the interpretation of the: tendency to deprave and corrupt test—and I absolutely take that point from my noble friend Lord Tranmire, and others of your Lordships who have spoken in the same way—I think that it would be equally wrong to assume that as a result the Obscene Publications Acts are a dead letter.

A second difficulty, and one also to which my noble friend Lord Tranmire referred, is the existence in the present legislation of the so-called "public good" defence. This provides that publication of an obscene article is justified if it is found to be for the public good on account of its literary, artistic or scientific merit. At one time it was certainly the case that this defence was used to defend material which had no pretension to artisitic or literary merit, but I am advised that later decisions by the courts have greatly restricted the scope which this defence provides for evasion.

Having said that, it does not mean that we neither could nor should try to do anything to improve the situation. On the contrary, although the Government do not see a sufficient measure of agreement to make it practicable to embark on comprehensive legislation to implement the recommendations of the Williams Committee Report on Obscenity and Film Censorship, none the less, our policy is to concentrate on specific matters where there is a reasonable prospect of achieving practical results.

I heard, of course, the very important speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice in yesterday's debate, which included the noble and learned Lord's remarks about the effect of pornography on crime. It may indeed be the case—although I can produce no statistical evidence for this—that certain offences are accompanied by examples of behaviour of the sort about which the noble and learned Lord spoke. What we are doing is following the Indecent Displays (Control) Act, which went through the House in the last Session and for which, I just say to the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, there are not yet any statistics because the Act came into effect only in October last year.

We are taking firm action now in our proposed controls over sex shops in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and in the support which we are giving to the Cinematograph Bill, introduced by my honourable friend the Member for Fareham, Mr. Lloyd, to curb those aspects of the dissemination and exhibition of pornography which people find particularly offensive. Of course, there are already controls on the importation of obscene material. These are practical measures dealing with specific problems which can be expected to pay dividends.

My noble friend Lord Nugent has argued that this Bill is fully in keeping with the Government's approach, which I have just outlined, and that it avoids the pitfalls which would be associated with more thoroughgoing legislation. The intention of my noble friend's Bill—to restrict the dissemination of pornography—is one which the Government certainly support. Therefore, there can be no question of Government support for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. I am bound to say, however, that we have some serious misgivings about the way in which this Bill tries to give effect to its intentions.

My noble friend very fairly drew attention to the principal difficulty presented by the Bill. Indeed, I think that it is a fundamental difficulty. It is the fact that it overlaps entirely with the existing legislation; quite apart from anything else, this distinguishes the Bill clearly from the other measures which I have just mentioned. Perhaps I may just illustrate the extent of this overlap by referring to the offences which are proposed in Clause 1.

Clause 1(1)(a) creates the offence of carrying on a business which has as an object the dissemination of pornography with a view to making profits. But such an activity can be penalised more directly—without any need to prove a commercial motive, but including a commercial motive if necessary—by the present legislation. Clause 1(1)(b) of the Bill creates an offence in connection with such a business of procuring the supply of pornography from domestic or foreign sources. Here again, this activity is already covered by existing legislation.

The third offence created by the Bill in Clause 1(1)(c) penalises possession for the purposes of such a business. Under the Obscene Publications Act 1959, as amended by the 1964 Act, it is already an offence to possess obscene articles for distribution for gain. So the overlap to which I have referred is total. This, I think, is more than a mere awkwardness. What it means in practice is that if the Bill becomes law, a person would be subject to two different and almost certainly conflicting sets of legal requirements in respect of the same activity. As the Metropolitan Police have put it to us, there would be dual legislation with two different definitions: one for "pornography", and one for "obscenity". I do not think this would be conducive to effective enforcement of the law, and that is what we all join together in wanting. I really am at a loss to see how this defect could be put right in Committee because the problem lies in the concept of the Bill.

My noble friend has argued, however, that the Bill would nevertheless be useful because it takes us away from the "tendency to deprave and corrupt" test. As I mentioned earlier, I agree that this test has certainly led to great difficulties of interpretation. I would be most eager to accept the definition of pornography in Clause 2 as a step in the right direction, but I fear that it is capable of widely differing interpretation and that it would create a great deal of work for the legal profession.

Indeed, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell said that he thought the definition could amount to a complete prohibition. I would not go as far as that, although I confess I find it difficult to decide exactly what material would come within its compass. This is a view which is shared by the Metropolitan Police, who have told us that they envisage that their main difficulty would be in comprehending the meaning of "pornography", which they say appears to relate to material similar in nature, to that covered by the 1959 Act, but obviously not exactly the same.

My noble friend's intention—and I respect it absolutely—is that the definition in the Bill should cover hard pornography, but Clause 1(2)(a) on its own would cover a wider range of material than that. Finally I must, with respect, differ from my noble friend in the assessment of the scope of the Bill. It would go much wider than its target of the producer, the wholesaler, and the distributor.

There is little doubt that Clause 1(1)(a) of the Bill could equally well apply to the small retailer, the newsagent or the bookseller, and it would be a serious matter, bearing in mind what I have tried to say about the uncertainty of the definition of "pornography", for the Bill to range so wide. Because the Government support the intention of my noble friend, the Government are certainly not going to support Lord Houghton's amendment, but I know that my noble friend Lord Nugent will appreciate that it is not from any lack of sympathy with his objectives that I say that I cannot give the Bill the unqualified welcome which his efforts in bringing it forward undoubtedly deserve.

Lord Robbins

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether, existing legislation apart, he does not agree that the word "pornography" goes more to the point than the word "obscenity"?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I would not disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, but one is still left with the difficulty of having to define accurately, and particularly in this case, if this Bill became law, of having two different definitions running in the law side by side.

8.14 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, first I should like to thank all who have taken part in this interesting debate and have supported my Bill. In particular, I should like to thank and congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, on his exceptional maiden speech, which we all enjoyed so much. This subject, noble Lords have observed on all sides, is an unattractive subject. One of the few compensations for debating it is the very nice people who take part in these debates. The real consolation both for me and, I hope, for them, is that at least the company is good even if the subject is unpleasant. I thank them very much indeed for the support they have given me.

I should like to take up a point that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has made. While I thank him for the kind things he said about the Bill and our efforts, I am not sure that I can agree with him that he has adequately defended the law as it now stands. He gave us the figures of the number of prosecutions which have gone to the Crown court under Section 2. But I took the figures of what is actually happening in central London. Their figures, in broad terms, are as I mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and I asked him a question about them. When they are considering a prosecution under the 1959 Act, they consult their own lawyers, and also have had to go to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The result is that, when the cases are put before the legal experts, in only about 20 per cent. of cases are the police advised that they can go ahead under Section 2, which is trial at the Crown court before a jury. That surely throws a major doubt upon the effectiveness of the law now. After all, they are picking up cases which, believe me, are appalling. I shall have just one word to say to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, on that subject before I finish. If only one fifth of the cases are judged to have any prospect of success before a jury, that underlines the weakness of the law as it now stands.

The noble Lord gave us some figures of the number of successful prosecutions out of the number taken, but, bearing in mind that the number taken to court is only one fifth of the total, that is not an impressive figure. Only about half of those, or rather less than half, are succeeding in central London, so this underlines the ineffectiveness of the law now. My noble friend Lord Belstead must know that the pornographers do not mind about fortfeiture. As the stock is taken out of the front door, new stock comes in through the back door. That is simply part of the trading expenses. It is no deterrent whatsoever.

I would strongly recommend to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, who is most thorough in his investigations in these matters, to ask the Metropolitan Police to give him a conducted tour so that he can see for himself what this material is like. Far from thinking that I have exaggerated what is there, he will think I have gravely understated how bad it is. It is absolutely appalling. I am sure he would agree when he had seen it that this material which really should be stopped.

The fact is—and I have put this to my noble friend Lord Belstead—that in these sex shops there is pornographic material which is in breach of the 1959 Act if any material ever could be: perverted sex, violent sex, every sort and kind of filth in pictures, and in cinemas—about half the sex shops have cinemas, hardly any of them licensed—showing material which must be gravely in breach. Why is no action taken? The police simply have not the strength to raid them more than four times a year each. The deterrents the owners get in fines and forfeitures are no deterrent at all. You really cannot say that the law is adequate when you get a result like that. Whilst our Bill may not be perfect—if it covers the same ground as the 1959 Act, of course it may not be to some extent, because the 1959 Act is not succeeding—I ask my noble friend to look at this again and take it back to his advisers in the Home Office, because the present situation is deeply unsatisfactory.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, that I was delighted to hear him declare his own deep distaste for this pornographic material. That does not surprise me, knowing his personal high integrity and honour. But, if he doubts the strength of the case that we have put to him today, I strongly urge him to pay a personal visit and see for himself. He would have no doubt at all then that here we have something which is really damaging the life of the nation, and we really have an obligation to take steps to try to beat it. I feel I have said enough, at this hour, by way of reply. I thank all noble Lords who have supported me and I hope the House will now give the Bill a Second Reading.

8.20 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, the most satisfactory conclusion to the debate would, I suggest, have been for the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, to withdraw the Bill and have regarded this as a day's debate on an important subject on which views have been expressed in all parts of the House. The Minister has indicated that the Bill cannot possibly make any satisfactory progress in further stages in this House. Without Government help, it can get nowhere, and the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, indicated the difficulties in putting the Bill in proper shape to make it a likely piece of legislation. Thus, this is really a demonstration and is not practical business. We are not embarking on legislation, we are just registering something; and the difficulty is that if the Bill is not withdrawn, I and possibly others who do not feel able to support the measure in its present form, will have no means of expressing our view except by pursuing the matter to a conclusion.

I do not feel able, with great respect, to withdraw my amendment, since the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill still stands. I am sure the commonsense of the matter lies in the amendment; there is no business to be done on the Motion. The amendment, it seems to me, would give the Bill proper attention and respect. It is not worthwhile the House spending further time in Committee, on Report and on the remaining stages of the Bill in trying to shape into any acceptable form what is clearly an inconvenient and indeed unworkable vehicle for achieving the purpose the sponsor of the measure has in mind.

I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, is not being practical. He is really looking for a demonstration of general support. The Minister has the message, having sat throughout the debate—what long debates he has to sit through. The Minister listened attentively to all that has happened, so the message is there. For us to go on pretending that we are doing business when we are not seems to me to be undesirable. I regret, therefore, that I cannot withdraw my amendment.

On Question, amendment negatived.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.