§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Major Gwilym Lloyd-George)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is a short and comparatively simple Bill dealing with a specific object, which is succinctly described in the Long Title. Many hon. Members will have seen the exhibition of so-called horror comics which was organised by the National Union of Teachers and was shown in the Palace of Westminster a short time ago. I think that all hon. Members who saw that exhibition will agree that by organising it the National Union of Teachers has performed a valuable public service. I think that it is also true to say that, as a result of the publicity given to these publications in the autumn of last year, their publication in this country has, for the time being, been severely curtailed. The Government—and, I feel sure, every hon. Member—take the view that it is an important part of the responsibilities of parents and teachers to supervise the reading of their children, and it is a source of satisfaction that such effective results have been produced by the emphatic expression of public opinion.
It is, however, a very difficult matter, both for parents and teachers, to ensure that children do not get hold of objectionable publications without their knowledge, and the Government believe that it is necessary to ask the House to pass the Bill in order to support the action taken by parents and teachers, by empowering the courts to prevent the continued circulation of such copies as may still be on the market, and the resumption of their publication.
Careful consideration has been given to the question whether the distribution of these publications could be prevented by proceedings under the law relating to obscene publications. It appears, however, that, as a result of judicial decisions, the word "obscene" has come to be regarded as being restricted to matter 1073 relating to sex, and that it is unlikely, therefore, that publications which deal with horror and violence could be the subject of successful prosecutions under the existing law.
It was, therefore, necessary to consider whether legislation should be introduced to empower the courts to deal with them, a course which was very strongly urged on the Government—in particular by a deputation which I received last year from the Church of England Council for Education, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say, for the information of the House, whether or not any indictment for obscene libel has, in fact, been laid against the perpetrators of these works?
§ Major Lloyd-George
Not that I am aware of, for the reason that I have just given.
The deputation to which I have referred drew attention to the fact that legislation to deal with this problem has been introduced in a number of Commonwealth countries, and the provisions of those enactments have been very carefully examined since then. Many of them, however, involve methods of control, such as the registration of booksellers or the establishment of a censorship board, which the Government do not consider necessary or, indeed, desirable, to deal with the problem as it exists in this country.
As I explained in the Answer which I gave to the hon. Member for Shore-ditch and Finsbury (Mr. Collins) last December, the Government were anxious that legislation should be carefully retricted to the type of publication which has rightly aroused so much concern in this country, and that is the object of the present Bill. The Bill does not seek in any way to amend the law relating to obscene publications, for that is a much more complicated and controversial question, which is under examination at the present time.
The Bill applies, with necessary adaptations, to Scotland. If hon. Members have any particular points with reference to Scotland, my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate will deal with them when he replies to the debate.
1074 To turn to the provisions of the Bill itself, Clause 1 defines the publications to which the Bill applies in very narrow terms. In the first place, the publication must be a book, magazine or other like work—which excludes newspapers—which consists wholly or mainly—there are very important words—of stories told in pictures. The Bill would not, therefore, apply to a book consisting mainly of reading matter illustrated by pictures, but only to the pictorial type of publication of which the so-called horror comic is an example.
Second, the stories must be stories portraying the commission of crimes or acts of violence or cruelty, or incidents of a horrible or repulsive nature.
Lastly, the stories must be so portrayed that the work as a whole would tend to corrupt a child or young person into whose hands it might fall. Those hon. Members who took the advantage of seeing the exhibition on view in this House some time ago, and who have seen copies of the so-called horror comic, will, I think, agree that there is not much difficulty about this definition applying to them. Indeed, if any hon. Gentleman or anybody else had difficulty in applying it, the publishers themselves would help them.
In the course of my studies of one of these delightful books the other day, I saw an advertisement on the back, which is the publishers' or the newsagents' advertisement—I am not sure which—and it said this:Imagine—you are selling a nice line in Comfy Kiddies Komics and Dainty Dailies when a parcel of putrid patter slithers slimily in at the back door; you hold your nose and cut the string, and your reeking ration of horror has arrived.That is a description of the publication by the people who are publishing it. They go further and say that if anyone who has not got a copy writes to the publishers, they will be very happy to supply one. Some of the wording is very funny, but I think this is a very serious thing. I have read it out simply to show that if we had any difficulty about deciding what it was, these gentlemen, the publishers, had none at all.
In the Government's view, we do not think that there is any serious danger that other publications, such as the well-known children's comic papers which have been published in this country for 1075 many years now, would be regarded as falling within this definition. If, however, there is any doubt on this point whatever, the Government will be ready to consider any Amendments which may be put forward in Committee with the object of ensuring that the scope of the Bill is no wider than is necessary to deal with the mischief at which it is aimed.
The matter can, I think, more usefully be discussed in Committee, but I should like to refer briefly to some of the criticisms of this Clause which have appeared in the Press in the last few days, and, in particular, in a letter from Sir Alan Herbert which was published in "The Times" yesterday. The Clause is objected to on two main grounds: the first that it disregards the intention of the accused person, and the second that it contains no provision for considering literary or artistic merit or the admission on these points of expert evidence.
The question of intention is very difficult. It is difficult for me as a layman, and I think it is difficult for lawyers, too. If the word "intention" is used in the sense in which we use it in everyday language, it would not, I suggest, be practicable to enforce a Bill in which the intention of the accused was the central issue. He has only to say, with sufficient conviction, that it was not his intention to corrupt children and young persons, and the case falls to the ground.
If, on the other hand, the word is used in the sense that a man must be presumed to intend the reasonable results of his actions, the test becomes an objective one, and the question for decision is whether a particular publication would, in fact, tend to corrupt, which is the principle on which the Clause is based. There is, no doubt, room for argument about the precise words, but I think that the House should recognise that if the Bill is to be enforceable, the test must be an objective one which is capable of decision by a court.
The question of literary or artistic merit also raises difficult issues. Literary merit is really irrelevant in the context of the Bill which, I would remind the House, is restricted to pictorial publications. If the court is to be required to pay regard to artistic merit it will be necessary to define its relevance very carefully. For example, the mere fact that the pictures 1076 in a horror comic are skilfully drawn—and some of them are far too skilfully drawn——
§ Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)
Why is the Bill limited to pictorial publications? Other publications can be far more injurious than pictorial ones.
§ Major Lloyd-George
I do not think I can agree with the hon. Gentleman on that point. In many of the stories we have read there were scenes of horror, but we had to read the book to get to them. That is the great difference.
Another difference is that the horrors were not concentrated as they are in these pictorial publications, in which there is nothing but a series of horror pictures. That was not so in the books we read as children. These were very exciting and full of bloodthirsty events, but they were literature. That is why we have restricted the Bill to pictorial publications. The mere fact that the pictures are skilfully drawn should not be a defence against proceedings under the Bill.
Everyone will be anxious to ensure that the Bill does not become what Sir Alan Herbert describes in his letter asa new threat to the liberty of publishers, printers, librarians and booksellers.The Government's view is that the scope of the Bill is so limited that no such danger exists, and that the sort of safeguard which has been proposed for the protection of serious literature for adults is hardly appropriate to pictorial publications which have a special attraction and special dangers for children. Most people will agree that there is a peculiar responsibility to ensure that young people who read this sort of publication are protected from possible harmful influences. If, in discharging this responsibility, we have to accept some limitation on the freedom of adults to read this sort of publication, I do not think we shall be paying a very high price.
Clause 2 provides that the maximum penalty for an offence under the Bill shall be four months' imprisonment or a fine of £100, or both. The fact that the maximum term of imprisonment exceeds three months will automatically give to the accused person a right to elect for trial by jury.
The purpose of Clause 3 is to prevent the distribution of harmful publications 1077 pending legal proceedings and to enable the courts to dispose of publications in respect of which an offence has been committed. There are important differences between the procedure provided in the Bill and the present procedure for dealing with obscene publications under the Obscene Publications Act, 1857. The Bill provides that no search warrant may be granted unless criminal proceedings have already been instituted, and that no copies of a publication may be destroyed unless there has been a conviction in respect of that particular publication. Under the Obscene Publications Act a search warrant may be granted without the institution of proceedings for any criminal offence, and publications may be destroyed without any conviction.
Clause 4 prohibits the importation of harmful publications or plates for printing them. One of the sources of these publications is their importation in the form of matrices. All the provisions of the Customs Act, 1952, with respect to the seizure of prohibited articles will be applicable. These include the requirement that the articles seized must be brought before a court if the party aggrieved disputes the seizure.
There will no doubt be a number of detailed points which should be carefully examined in Committee, but I hope that the House will accept that it is desirable that power should be given to the courts to deal with publications of this sort. Everyone agrees, I think without exception, that these publications are totally unsuitable for reading by children and young persons.
In a leading article in "The Times" today the question is raised whether there is any need for legislation on this matter, as the responsibility is surely that of the parents. We are agreed that that is where the prime responsibility lies, but there are occasions when parents can do nothing, such as when children are at school. Teachers cannot control every publication that every child sees, although they are doing great work in that respect. In any case, the Bill is entirely consistent with a long-established principle that it is the responsibility of Parliament to make special provision for the protection of children and young persons when it is thought necessary to do so.
To give only a few examples: laws are already in existence for that very purpose in regard to cigarettes and tobacco, 1078 intoxicating liquor, firearms, betting and juvenile employment, and we pay particular regard to attendance at a cinema to see that the children come to no harm. There are plenty of precedents for saying that, in addition to the responsibility of the parent, Parliament must do what it can to protect young children. I have gone into this matter with a great deal of care for many weeks and I am convinced that there is definitely a need in this case. I hope that the House will be willing to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Sir Frank Soskice (Sheffield, Neepsend)
The Home Secretary has outlined to us very clearly the purposes of the Bill and the reasons which have actuated the Government in introducing it, and we on this side of the House support the Measure. We agree with the Home Secretary that a case has been made out and that the circumstances are such as imperatively to require intervention by the Government for the purpose, as he says, of protecting children and young people. The Bill is designed solely for their protection. The Government have sought to ring round the evil at which the Bill is aimed and in that purpose we support the Government.
One of the most difficult tasks with which the House ever finds itself confronted is that of imposing legislation to limit freedom of expression, such as freedom of thought, freedom of artistic expression, and any freedom in print or in speech to reproduce the ideas of a speaker or writer. Difficult as that task is, the House must courageously approach it when special circumstances exist.
Everybody, I am sure, would agree in that context with what was said on behalf of the National Union of Teachers in a statement which it issued on this subject in November last year. This passage occurs in that statement:The executive … could not rid itself of grave doubt as to whether legislation can be introduced without the danger of involving the country in a narrow and dangerous censorship threatening vital freedom of thought and expression.Obviously, that is a most weighty consideration. In our approach to any Bill of this sort we should all have it constantly and prominently in mind.
Equally, as the Home Secretary has said, we should weigh carefully the rôle which, in matters of this sort, should be 1079 played by parents and teachers. We lose a great deal in our national life—and I feel sure that the House will agree with me about this—when we unduly—and I emphasise the word "unduly"—lift from the shoulders of parents and teachers the responsibility which should rest upon those shoulders.
One has to bear in mind, of course, that particularly little boys—and in this I speak with personal experience as a father—have a penchant at least to simulate acts of violence. We should not perhaps be unduly disturbed by seeing our sons fully equipped in wild west equipment, with pistols in their holsters. I, personally, was a great devotee of "Buffalo Bill," but he has long since been disenthroned, and the present occupant of the throne in the imagination of little boys is, I believe, known as "Dan Dare."
Perhaps it is a good thing, although some parents would not agree with me in this, that little boys should work that sort of thing out of their systems, and, in any case, the inclination towards the methods of the wild west has now, I think we would all agree, been to a large extent supplanted by interest in space suits and space ships, although parents are somewhat perturbed, I think, to see the interest that their children have now developed in death ray weapons. But these are symptoms of the times, and we probably should not be unduly disturbed about them, although, as I have said, a number of parents think that it is not good for their children constantly to be seen brandishing mock weapons, lethal weapons, as they are.
Be that as it may, in this context we are not dealing with anything of that sort. We are dealing, as the Home Secretary said, with something utterly different. He cited a very relevant context from one of the "blurbs" in one of these publications, and, of course, they are legion in number. I have before me another:The Vault of Horror.Three lots of the most gruesome horror stories you have ever broken into a clammy sweat over! They are brilliant—but definitely not for the squeamish and should be kept away from the kiddies.That perhaps is a piece of gross hypocrisy and dishonesty on the part of those who publish them.If you belong to neither of these groups you'll lose your head over these terror tomes.1080 This publication consists of ghoulish representations in picture form of cruelty, terror, abnormality, insanity, torture and death; pictures of women in evening dress, brandishing whips; every appeal to the instincts of sadism, and every excitation of one's most brutish inclinations, tastes and feelings.
Death and pain, agony of mind and body, are represented in a variety of forms. I should have thought, and I believe that all hon. Members will agree with me, that it was really beyond controversy that to read that kind of stuff, however balanced or sane a child or young person may be, cannot do him any good. In happy home surroundings, no doubt, the influence of parents, brothers and sisters, and friends should assist the younger reader of that kind of stuff to repel any baleful influence which may pervade as a result of reading it. But one has to consider that this sort of stuff will be read not only by children who come from happy homes.
It will be read, as the Home Secretary said, when there are no parents present. It will be read secretly and passed clandestinely from hand to hand. It will be read by children who may be emotionally unbalanced, perhaps through unhappy home surroundings, when parents have parted, or are on bad terms. It will be read by children who have perhaps had the misfortune of arrested or stunted mental development, by children or young boys or girls who are already accustomed to bad company, and so on—children who have some kind of mental twist or abnormality; and it does not require much effort to divine the kind of effect that these publications may have on these children and young persons.
There is the case—and the Home Secretary has already deployed it—for some intervention by the Government in this matter. Of course, the House is well accustomed to legislation, extending back centuries into our history in one form or another, to inhibit complete and unrestrained freedom of expression. The Home Secretary has referred to the law of obscenity. When one is dealing with matters of obscenity, one is confronted with the difficulty of balancing, on the one side, the need for freedom of artistic expression, the need to preserve for society that which has something of literary value or beauty in however small a degree, and, 1081 on the other, balancing against that the need to protect society from what is merely pornographic, without more in it.
That kind of problem does not really confront the House in the case of these publications. They have no redeeming feature. They are correctly described as being simply repulsive publications, without more to them. So these balancing considerations, which are perplexing to Parliament and the courts when one is dealing with obscenity, are really not present in this particular problem. But our legislation and our law, expanded by precedent, has, of course, to cover a much wider range than that. We have, after all the extremely necessary law to deal with contempt of court, for example, restraining persons from scurrilous criticism or attacks upon the judiciary, or even non-scurrilous publication of matter which may have the effect of prejudicing a fair trial of criminal proceedings.
We have laws to deal with blasphemy, and I think that the Attorney-General will agree with me that one of the most difficult and anxious aspects of our law is that which pertains to seditious libel. He must have been concerned with that kind of problem not infrequently in the course of his office, and that is again another sphere in which the law steps in and says that, in certain circumstances, expression must be inhibited and certain kinds of self-expression are to be forbidden altogether.
So there is nothing new or revolutionary in introducing legislation of this kind. Furthermore, our legislature, as the Home Secretary pointed out, has been particularly solicitous in providing safeguards for the young, who cannot be expected to be able, in some respects, to take care for their own moral, spiritual and physical safety, as older people can. I would therefore suggest, as the Home Secretary has already suggested, that there can be no basic objection in principle by this House to a Measure on these lines.
The real question that arises is whether the Government have, in the definition which they have chosen, and the form in which they have cast their Measure, proceeded on the right lines. May I say at once, speaking for myself, that I recognise that the definition is certainly an ingenious one, if I may be permitted to say so, in that it is very strictly narrowed in its purview and contains a number of 1082 qualifications which must be complied with before the publication can come within the ambit of the Bill?
As the Home Secretary has pointed out, the definition requires, in the first place, that the publication must be either a book, or a magazine or something of that kind.… which consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures …Those words, of course, very greatly narrow the scope of the Bill. They would seem to be appropriate to bring within the scope of the Bill precisely the type of publication to which the Home Secretary has referred and which one can obtain in ample measure if one is so inclined.
That is the first thing that must be shown, but, of course, within that definition one at once finds oneself confronted with some degree of uncertainty. The publications must be either wholly stories told in pictures or they must be mainly stories told in pictures. One at once asks oneself whether a contemporary magazine with excellent photographs, for example, of refugees in the Korean war under bombing, or having suffered the results of bombing, could not be said to tell a story wholly or mainly in pictures—certainly not wholly, but whether it could not be said to tell a story mainly in pictures.
If one opens the pages, for example, of a publication such as "Picture Post" one will find that, physically at any rate, a great deal of the space on a number of the pages is taken up with photographs—excellent photographs, and photographs which ought to be seen and ought to be studied by the adult population of this country. I agree with the Home Secretary that this is the sort of question which we must examine much more closely in Committee. Therefore, at this stage, I would simply pose the question whether in using the word "mainly" in that particular context the Government have not unwittingly included publications such as that to which I have referred, containing photographs, for example, of the result of war and bombing.
It may be said that the qualification that the publication must be such as… to corrupt a child or young person …would be sufficient to exclude the sort of publication to which I have referred——
§ Sir F. Soskice
—and my hon. Friend says "In whose opinion?"
The definition or qualification is embodied in these words: the publication has to portray the commission of crimes, acts of violence or incidents of a repulsive nature… in such a way that the work as a whole would tend to corrupt a child or young person into whose hands it might fall (whether by inciting or encouraging him to commit crimes or acts of violence or cruelty or in any other way whatsoever).That is a test which will have to be applied by benches of magistrates all over the country before which many cases of this sort may be heard, because the prosecutions will, in the first place, be on summary conviction although, as the Home Secretary has pointed out, the accused will have the right to claim trial by jury.
One criticism that I make is that, perhaps unavoidably, one may get a great lack of uniformity about this. One bench may say that a picture of persons being harrowed by bombing or sniping would "in any way whatsoever" tend to corrupt children if it got into their hands. Most benches would probably say that it would not, but, nevertheless, there is bound to be a great difference of approach by the various benches who may have to deal with this type of publication—if, indeed, it continues.
I therefore simply pose the question, for consideration in this debate and in Committee hereafter, whether it would not be better to introduce a requirement that prosecutions should be undertaken only with the consent of the Attorney-General or the Director of Public Prosecutions or that a similar test should be introduced. Clause 2 of the Bill makes any person liable to prosecution who has publications of this sort on sale. It is rather hard on the bookseller or the person who has a stall on which newspapers or magazines are sold if there is not at any rate the maximum certainty that can be achieved by drafting as to the ambit of the offence.
I put it to the Government that if the test is that the publication tells a story wholly or mainly in pictures and that it portrays the commission of crimes, and so on, and that, thereafter, the only test 1084 as to whether an offence is committed by selling the publication is whether a bench in any part of the country might think that "in any way whatsoever" it might tend to corrupt the mind of the child or young person into whose hands it may fall, that test is very fallible, and the bookseller who may sell magazines or similar publications is left in a state of very considerable uncertainty which, as far as possible, should be removed.
The question is as to how, if at all, that uncertainty can be removed. Possibly, it cannot be removed, but I would suggest to the Government that a considerably greater degree of certainty could be introduced if the intent of the seller, or the publisher, or the circulator—in whatever form he circulates it—were made the relevant test: in other words, if, in order that a conviction might be obtained, it were necessary to establish affirmatively that the purpose of the seller was to sell it to young persons. The Home Secretary has said that that would be an impracticable test. It would be hardly feasible to discuss that on Second Reading, but in Committee I shall again seek to raise it.
In answer to the Home Secretary, I would suggest that by looking at the nature of the make-up of the publication in question it should not be difficult to prove to what kind of public it was being addressed. I should have thought that by looking at any of these particular magazines one could tell that they were designed to be read by young persons. If it were necessary to prove affirmatively that the intention of the publisher was to cater for young people I should have thought one would have had a very desirable additional safeguard for those who sell these magazines.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
I appreciate my right hon. and learned Friend's purpose in seeking to introduce motive into Clause 2, but would he not agree that the manner in which he has suggested it should be introduced would, in fact, kill the Bill?
§ Sir F. Soskice
That is the view which the Home Secretary has put forward. I certainly would not for a moment say that he is necessarily wrong in that view. I think, however, that it is a view which the Home Secretary himself indicated he would desire to see further discussed in Committee. I simply put the contrary 1085 view for precisely the same purpose. I should think that a question such as that asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) is one which should be pursued further in Committee. I am pointing out some of the things that I consider, rightly or wrongly, to be defects in the Bill and suggesting ways of dealing with them, but I think that the whole House would welcome further comments.
§ Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman re-read the school-boys' letters which were collected by the National Union of Teachers, from which it is quite clear that it was not the school-children who bought the publications but father or uncle?
§ Sir F. Soskice
That may be so. That simply prompts me to say—and I am quite sure that the Home Secretary will agree with me about this—that it would be a great pity if, inadvertently or intentionally, we prevented adult people from reading horror publications.
My reason for saying that is the following: we all appear to be too apt to forget what went on, for example, in Buchenwald, and I think it is a very salutary thing that grown-ups—not children—should be reminded from time to time of what can happen upon this earth among so-called civilised people. I am entirely at one with the Home Secretary in seeking to limit the Bill solely to publications designed for children and young persons.
In expressing the hope that the House will give a Second Reading to the Bill, I have sought to indicate one or two suggestions which perhaps the Home Secretary may think it wise to take into account. I simply add this one further suggestion: this being a Bill which, after all, however one tries to describe it, to some extent inhibits freedom of discussion, I suggest to the Home Secretary that it is the sort of Bill which would be better discussed in Committee on the Floor of the House than in Committee upstairs. He may agree with me about that or he may not, but my reason is the nature of the Bill which, as I have said, is a Bill which controls what is a form of expression, however mean and contemptible a form.
With those observations, I personally support the Bill and hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Mr. John Foster (Northwich)
It seems that this legislation is in accord with the general sense of the people of this country and that the people also think, as the Home Secretary said, that great care should be exercised in framing the scope of the Bill.
My right hon. and gallant Friend drew attention to the many aspects in which the law is particularly directed towards prohibiting children from doing or seeing things or having certain articles. The difference in this case—and that is the reason for extra caution—is that the definition in the Bill, perhaps necessarily, will hit in its scope all the people and is not limited to children, because, as has been pointed out, we cannot exactly pick out which publication will be read by children and which will not. I therefore ask the Home Secretary to look with great care at the definition and at the question of the omission of any intent.
I have a suggestion to make in a few minutes which may be a compromise between the views of people who think that intent should be put into the Bill positively and those of people who think that it should be left out altogether. I ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to see whether the scope of the definition will not be a little too wide. It reads:(b) acts of violence or cruelty; or (c) incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature;".Such things, for instance, are often portrayed in world-famous pictures, and it might well be that an art gallery reproduction of the scenes of Hogarth, which may be telling a story of "a repulsive or horrible nature," would be caught by this definition. It might also be possible that an account of the doings in the concentration camps, published with the very laudable motive mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice), would also be caught by this definition.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacPherson (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)
The hon. and learned Gentleman is a lawyer. Would he explain something which rather puzzles me, as a layman, in what he has just said? The illustrations of Hogarth has been quoted in the Press. But the Bill reads:any book, magazine or other like work …Can he explain how an exhibition in an art gallery comes in that?
§ Mr. Foster
I was not talking about an exhibition but about an illustrated catalogue or little brochure which reproduced scenes from Hogarth, with very little reading matter, and which might well be "stories told in pictures" of incidents which were of a "repulsive or horrible nature." I can well imagine that, to prevent road accidents, pictures of injuries to people and of road accidents might be portrayed in a little booklet, the story being that one must be more careful on the roads; and that would be caught by the definition, because if it fell into the hands of a child it might well, in the opinion of the bench, be held to have a tendency to corrupt him.
I therefore suggest that in Committee we might consider it possible to insert a defence of intention. In other words, the difficulty which I see in putting in intention as a positive act to be proved by the prosecution is that it is difficult to prove intent and also that the nature of the evidence is very difficult to establish. I imagine that that is probably why the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) intervened and that he had that point in mind.
But supposing a bench held that prima facie it was in their opinion a work which would tend to corrupt a child; that it might be one of the classes of publication which otherwise would be quite innocent but, if it happened to fall in the hands of a small child, would have that tendency; then it would be open to the defence to prove that there was no such intention. In that event, I think we might avoid the difficulty of the definition catching a much wider series of publications than the Government intend.
I also want to ask my right hon. and gallant Friend whether he thinks that the word "publishes" in Clause 2 is confined, as I think it probably is, to what I call publishers in the layman's sense, namely, somebody who publishes a book, like a publishing firm, and not publishes in the technical sense, such as in the case of libel. If that is so, as I think it probably is, may I ask whether the person who draws or composes these pictures is caught by the Bill at all? It seems to me anomalous that the person who thought out these horrors should escape, and I think he can be caught—I speak subject to correction by my right hon. and gallant Friend—only if we interpret 1088 the word "publishes" in its narrow, libel sense of showing or publishing the pictures to somebody else.
Another question which I want to ask him is whether he does not think it undesirable that any private person should be able to lay information, because I see that under Clause 3 it is possible for a private person to start the whole machinery of this law going against a particular publication. The right hon. and learned Member for Neepsend had it in mind that it was undesirable that the police should start the machinery in various districts, and that is why he suggested, for consideration in Committee, that perhaps the consent of the Attorney-General or the Home Secretary would be necessary. But I think the possible evil is greater than that, because it seems to me that any private person can cause an immense amount of trouble by picking on particular publications and alleging that they contravene the provisions of the Bill.
My next question is whether the importation into the Bill, by implication of reference under Clause 4, of the provisions of the Customs Act, 1952, meets the case. Again, I am not sure whether somebody who imports a work of this kind is open to punishment under the Bill. If he is open to punishment under a Section of the Customs Act, I should have thought that that was inadequate and that the Bill ought to provide that anybody who imports a work of this sort should be caught by Clause 2.
It is also undesirable that when these works are imported the machinery of prosecution should be started by the Customs and that, in a sense, the person who imports them should have the onus of having to object to the seizure. I would have thought that it would have been better, if works of this kind were imported, that the State should have the duty of prosecuting the people who import them, and that then the machinery would be started by the State against the importer. At the moment it may well be that in the judgment of the Customs certain works infringe this Act, but they may well be wrong, and yet the importer has to go before the court and object to the seizure. Does not my right hon. and gallant Friend think it would be more desirable that, whether the works are for sale and are composed or appear in this country, they should be prosecuted under 1089 the Bill and that the same should apply to the importer?
§ Mr. James McInnes (Glasgow, Central)
The hon. and learned Gentleman has referred to the importation of these publications, but surely it is not so much the importation of the publication as of the plate or film. Would he seek seizure of the plate or film?
§ Mr. Foster
Yes, but I would like the Bill to say that if the plates were seized the person importing them should be prosecuted. Most of the prosecutions have occurred under the procedure by which the Customs judge whether the plates infringe an Act of Parliament. They then seize them, and then the onus is on the person who imports them to object to the seizure. I would like the onus to be squarely on the State. If the plates are seized, there must be prosecution. If there is no prosecution, the plates should not be seized. This is a criticism which is a little wider in scope than this Bill, but I see an opportunity here of getting in the right principle.
In my opinion, the Home Secretary has produced a Bill which is well calculated to prevent what most of us want to see prevented, but I hope that, in accordance with the promise he gave, he will look carefully at this point again to ensure that it will not be possible for private individuals to cause a lot of harm, very often in all sincerity but starting from a different premise from that of the ordinary person, and so that certain publications in the hands of grown-ups, intended only for grown-ups and unlikely to fall into the hands of children, shall not be caught by the definitions in Clause 1 of the Bill.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins (Birmingham, Stechford)
I cannot share even the modified enthusiasm for this Bill which was expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield, Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice). I think it is a thoroughly bad Bill and will do more harm than good. I am not opposed in principle to attempting to deal by legislation with the problem of horror comics, although it is possible that the extent and importance of that problem is exaggerated, but I am sure that, if it is to be done by a Bill, that Bill needs a good deal more consideration than has 1090 been given to this one and, indeed, needs a radically different method of approach.
First, I think it is a great pity that when a Bill of this kind has been introduced, the opportunity has not been taken to deal with the much wider problem of the law relating to obscenity in literature generally. That is a problem about which there has been much concern recently, and I am sure it will not have escaped the notice of the Home Secretary that in commenting on this Bill "The Times," the "Sunday Times" and the "Economist"—all of them responsible organs of opinion—have made this point and have said that it would have been much better to approach the whole problem and to try to deal with it en bloc. I am sorry that this opportunity has not been taken.
I do not think it can seriously be doubted that there is need at the present time to deal with the wider problem of obscenity. There have been five cases in the past year in which publishers of the highest repute have been prosecuted. Those cases have had different results. Two of them have led to convictions, two of them have led to the acquittal of the publishers, and in one of them the jury twice disagreed.
What comes out quite clearly in all these cases is that there is a great deal of doubt and confusion about where the law stands on this issue. It would be difficult for any hon. Member of this House to read the summing-up given in those different cases and to believe that the same law was being applied by, for instance, Mr. Justice Stable and by the Recorder of London. Also, it would be difficult to say with confidence that a publisher indicted in this way would stand an equal chance whoever he happened to come before.
In the last case—the Heinemann case, "The Image and the Search"—where the jury twice disagreed, the result of that case clearly turned on the narrowest margin, and it is not an exaggeration to say that if the case had gone the other way we would have been in an extremely grave position so far as serious literature is concerned, because printers who are also indicted under the terms of these charges would have been getting so worried themselves that they would have begun to apply a printing censorship to what books they would print and what books they would not print. This would 1091 have been an extremely serious state of affairs.
Therefore, I do not think there could be dispute that there is a wider problem here which ought to be dealt with. Could it have been dealt with at the same time as the horror comics with which we are primarily concerned in this Bill? I think it could. As the Home Secretary certainly knows—because he has been kind enough to receive a copy and to study it, and as some other hon. Members of the House may know—a committee set up under the auspices of the Society of Authors, and presided over first by Sir Alan Herbert and then by Sir Gerald Barry, on which I had the honour to serve, prepared a draft Bill for dealing with the entire problem and sought to bring the question of horror comics within the scope of the wider question.
Clause 4 of that Bill said—it does not seem to me to be in any way unduly straining the normal meaning of language—For the purposes of this Act the words 'obscene' and 'corrupt' shall be deemed to include any matter which, whether or not related to any sexual context, unduly exploits horror, cruelty or violence, whether pictorially or otherwise.That would have been a sensible approach to the matter but that Bill, in dealing with all this aspect of the law, sought to do many other things and sought to relate the offences to the intention of the accused person, so that part of Clause 1 would have read:Provided that no person shall be convicted of an offence under this Section unless it is established by the prosecution either (a) that the accused intended to corrupt the persons to or among whom the said matter was intended or was likely to be so distributed, circulated, sold or offered for sale; or (b) that in so distributing, circulating, selling or offering for sale he was reckless as to whether the said matter would or would not have a corrupting effect upon such persons.I recognise that there is a difficulty about introducing this concept into the field of law. I am not a lawyer and I move with extreme doubt and caution in this very difficult matter, but I thought that the Home Secretary, in his speech, swept out of the way in a very easy manner the possibility of approaching this question from the point of view of intent.
I understood the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to say that it would only be 1092 necessary for an accused person to go into the witness box and to assert, and assert sufficiently long and loudly, that he did not have this intention and that would be the end of the matter. My hon. and learned Friends will have their views about this, but I should not have thought that to approach the question from the point of view of intent meant that, if the accused said that he did not have the intent, there could be no question of its being held that he had had intent. All kinds of evidence could be brought and all sorts of approaches could be made in relation to this matter.
So far as the rather horrific documents which the Home Secretary produced to the House, and in particular the words which he quoted, were concerned, it would be very difficult indeed, even if one approached this matter purely from the viewpoint of intent, for the accused person not to be caught by the Bill. It does not, therefore, seem to me as though one can dismiss the matter quite as easily as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman appeared to do.
Therefore, I think that a much better and more comprehensive Measure could, and should, have been introduced. It may be said that the Bill is a small step in the right direction, a harbinger of a wider Bill. If the Home Secretary, or whoever replies to the debate, can give a definite assurance that we will have this Session a Bill dealing with the question of obscene libel generally, that would make me somewhat happier; but, even so, I would still be rather worried, on the experience of the present Bill, as to what we would have in a Bill emanating from the Home Office at the present time.
The difficulty about the whole question of the law of obscene libel is the famous Hicklin judgment, given by Lord Chief Justice Cockburn in 1868. My great objection to the Bill is that it takes a great number of words—I think, unfortunate words—which have already done more than their fair share of harm, from the Hicklin judgment and places them in the very centre of the Bill. To that extent, it is a retrograde step.
What happened in the Hicklin case was that a very respectable Wolverhampton trader who was a member of a rather extreme Protestant society went to London and bought a number of copies 1093 of an anti-Roman Catholic pamphlet which was called, "The Confessional Unmasked" with a sub-title of "Some Questions Put To Females In Confessions." He brought back copies of the pamphlet and circulated them in Wolverhampton, selling them not at a profit, but to serve his purpose, which he believed to be a desirable one.
The case came before the magistrates in Wolverhampton, who, I believe, found in his favour. The case was then put up, and Hicklin, being the senior of the magistrates, was called upon to state a case. It was in this way that Lord Chief Justice Cockburn came to give his famous judgment, which has remained the fountain of the law on this point ever since. This was the essence of the judgment:The test of obscenity is whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall.Quite a few of the phrases contained in that language will be familiar to anybody who has read the Bill which we have before us today.
From that judgment, it can be said that three main propositions of law follow. The first is that the important thing is the tendency to deprave. It is not necessary to show whether anybody has been corrupted; it does not have to be shown that any evil consequence has, in fact, occurred as a result of what has been published. All that has to be proved is this rather vague thing, a tendency to corrupt.
The second point is that intent is clearly considered of no relevance, because whatever else was the intent in the Wolverhampton case, it was clearly not the intent of the man concerned to sell pornographic literature in the streets of Wolverhampton. His intention might have been right or wrong, but it was something entirely different from that which was held to be the result of the man's action.
The third point is that while intent was of no importance, the type of persons among whom the literature might circulate was a matter of considerable importance. It is my view that this judgment, which has remained the fountain of the law, has done a great deal of harm during the eighty-five years or so in which it has held sway.
1094 It is partly on that basis that Vizetelly was prosecuted in 1888 and 1889 for publishing the works of Zola and Flaubert. Zola's "La Terre" was prosecuted in this country within three weeks of Zola being awarded the Legion of Honour in France. Three years subsequently, just to show that opinion can change on these matters—and we are dealing with a rapidly changing body of opinion—when Zola came over he was feted by the whole of literary London. The judgment in the Hicklin case was further the basis of a good deal of the trouble in the late 1920s which is associated with the name of Joynson-Hicks, later Lord Brentford, and it is the cause of a good deal of the uncertainty and doubt to which I have already referred and which exists today.
What we are doing today is taking a number of the words which have already caused so much trouble over a wider field and enshrining them for the first time, as far as I know, in a Statute. That seems to me to be an entirely undesirable state of affairs. The end of Clause 1 says:in such a way that the work as a whole would tend to corrupt a child or young person into whose hands it might fall (whether by inciting or encouraging him to commit crimes or acts of violence or cruelty or in any other way whatsoever).That owes its inspiration directly to the judgment of Lord Chief Justice Cockburn in the case of Hicklin. Those words include tendency but exclude intent, and there is the question of who might see the publication but not, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Neepsend pointed out, the question of who it is designed for or who it is intended should look at it, but merely the persons into whose hands in some casual way it might fall. Here we have all the undesirable features of the Hicklin judgment perpetuated in statute form. To that extent, the Bill seems to be a step backwards rather than forwards.
It has already been argued that the effect of the Bill is closely restricted and that it applies only to a work which consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures. In discussing the Bill all its supporters, certainly, and practically all hon. Members have primarily in mind the horror comics of which we have heard a good deal recently and which we all dislike. But because today, in 1955, we 1095 have horror comics in the forefront of our minds when discussing the Bill, do not let us get into the position of thinking that in time to come the Bill can apply only to horror comics.
After all, learned judges have often stated that it is what is said in Acts of Parliament and not what is in the minds of Members of Parliament which counts as far as the application of the law is concerned. It would be peculiarly foolish and ironical that when dealing with an issue in which we are told that intent cannot be brought in, we said that the Bill was all right because it was our intention that it should be concerned only with horror comics. Intentions can be perverted and the Bill may in future be given a much wider application.
I would recall the words of Lord Campbell speaking on the Measure that became the Obscene Publications Act, 1857, under which persons are not prosecuted but destruction orders are obtained. Speaking on that Measure in the House of Lords Lord Campbell said it wasintended to apply exclusively to works written for the single purpose of corrupting the morals of youth and of a nature calculated to shock the common feelings of decency in a well regulated mind.That is what Lord Campbell said when that Bill was going through the House of Lords, but that is the Act under which the Decameron was ordered to be destroyed by the Swindon magistrates last year.
We have to look ahead to see how our legislation of today may be interpreted at a future time when, as we all probably hope, horror comics will no longer be circulating in the way we see them circulating now, and moving about the House today, and when those horror comics may have been forgotten. Therefore, I hope that we shall not approach this matter in a light-hearted way, and I hope, in particular, that the suggestion will be closely considered that was made by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Neepsend, that at the very least we ought to have the Director of Public Prosecutions centralising any actions taken under the Bill.
§ Mr. Jenkins
And, perhaps, a new Attorney-General.
Unless we do, any busybody anywhere in the country will be able to start prosecutions. He will have only to take the matter before a local bench of magistrates, and it is certainly not outside my imagination, and I doubt whether it is outside the imagination of many hon. Members today, that sometime in the future we may, in these circumstances, have the most ludicrous and undesirable prosecutions.
It is not that one cannot think of material except that in horror comics that may be brought forward in a prosecution. My right hon. and learned Friend has already referred to a survey in "Picture Post" or another illustrated magazine dealing with the horrors of war in some form or another, and the hon. and learned Member for Northwich has mentioned how pictures by Hogarth might be used to illustrate a booklet. One can imagine a children's illustrated book of classical tales or even of Shakespearian tales which might well be held in certain circumstances to come within the purview of the Bill, and "The Times" this morning was rather frightened about what might happen to "Three Blind Mice."
We should, therefore, be careful to ensure that the Bill cannot be of any possible danger to anybody but the publishers of horror comics. I believe that we are in great danger of enacting a piece of illiberal and obscurantist legislation. For what purpose? No one likes horror comics, but I think that there is a great deal of evidence that the evil of them is now on the wane, that as a result of public agitation their circulation has declined a good deal.
We should be mindful of how little we really know about the direct causal relationship between horror comics or anything else people may read and people's actions, whether undesirable or not. We know very little about these matters. I read the other day an interesting survey published in New York by the staff of the Research Centre of Human Relations of New York University, which went precisely into this question. It found that it was very difficult to establish any firm conclusion, but it found as the beginning of a conclusion that if children read horror comics and read a lot of other things as well there was no marked effect by the horror comics. What the survey 1097 did show was that juvenile delinquency might be associated with those who read nothing but horror comics. But this might be as much due to the absence of other influences as to the positive effects of the horror comics themselves.
One cannot deduce that horror comics cause trouble to the mind, without knowing a great deal about the state of mind of the child or adolescent who wants to read only horror comics. I should not want to lay down firm rules about this, because I think it is a matter in which we should be humble in our judgments. We should not jump too quickly to the conclusion that because two things happen one necessarily happens as a result of the other.
I should like the Bill to be withdrawn. If it is not withdrawn I hope very much that the Home Secretary will adopt a welcoming attitude to Amendments—and I think they will need to be fairly sweeping Amendments—in Committee. I believe that he has good liberal instincts, as he has a good Liberal name. I cannot believe that, at a time when there is such a volume of informed and responsible opinions in favour of the liberalisation of our laws relating to obscenity and literature generally, the Home Secretary will want to go down to history as the perpetrator of an Act which enshrines the words of that judgment now ninety years old, and which have already done so much harm.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Linstead (Putney)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) very far in his references to the need to extend the Bill to obscenity, except to say that I suspect that when the Bill is in Committee we shall have fairly clearly brought before us the reasons why my right hon. and gallant Friend was wise in confining it to the comparatively narrow scope of the horror comics. Surely the answer to the hon. Gentleman is that there are limits to what can be done by an Act of Parliament, and that public opinion, far more than an Act of Parliament, is the criterion by which obscenity and the matters covered by the Bill have to be measured and by which behaviour is regulated.
It is because I believe that that I find myself disagreeing with my right hon. and gallant Friend and with the right hon. 1098 and learned Gentleman the Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice), who spoke first for the Opposition, as to the real value of the Bill in achieving what it seeks to do. If one takes that view I think one ought to begin with the worst possible example of what the Bill set outs to remedy, and I do not think one can do better than quote the example given to the House by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) on 30th November.
It was an example of the sort of thing that everyone here must agree needs remedying. It was this:The 'Frankenstein 'for January, 1954, tells the story of a mad scientist who with Frankenstein digs up from a grave the body of a woman just executed that day for murder. By electrifying the corpse they bring her back to life as a female monster, who is criminally lunatic and who shows her lunacy by going about tearing up animals and people for fun. After much violence she destroys the monster and himself with a doll which contains a time-bomb in its stomach."—[Official Report: 30th November, 1954; Vol. 535, c. 74–5.]That is the sort of thing with which we in this country have found ourselves faced over the last few weeks, and which the Bill seeks to bring to an end.
Bearing that example in mind, it is interesting to quote the views expressed on behalf of the Government on 1st August, 1952, when the Joint Undersecretary of State made two statements which ought to be recalled. My hon. Friend said:… responsibility for the moral welfare of a child must primarily rest with its parents and teachers. There is a limit, and a proper limit, to what the law or a Government Department can do in this field.Earlier, he had said:There have been other attempts made,"—that is, at definition—but I can assure the House that they do not appear to be any more satisfactory, and I think it is fair to say that it is virtually impossible by statute to seek to define what it is that we want to control in this context."—[Official Report, 1st August, 1952; Vol. 504, c. 2035–38.]I cannot help feeling that the attitude which was then expressed was really a wise Parliamentary and Governmental attitude and that the House finds itself today, as it does sometimes, carried forward on a current of public opinion to seek to do something by Act of Parliament which I very much doubt whether an Act of Parliament can achieve.
1099 If one wants a most simple example of that, I remind the House that as a result of the matter being raised on two or three occasions in the House, and as a result of an exhibition staged by the National Union of Teachers a short time ago, none of these horror comics is now being imported into this country. The two firms in this country which were printing and publishing them, one firm in Leicester and the other in Glasgow, have stopped doing so, and except perhaps for a small shop or two it is virtually impossible to buy any of the horror comics which have been exposed in that way. I cannot help feeling that fundamentally, in a robust political community, that is the way to deal with matters of this kind.
In considering the Bill, one sees the difficulty in which one gets in trying to regulate matters of opinion by Act of Parliament. The draftsman had the problem of defining as tightly as possible the various expressions which were to be made illegal. He recognised, of course, that every illustration depicting an act of violence, if taken by itself, could not conceivably be made illegal. Therefore, we have two escape provisions. The first appears at the beginning of Clause 1, which limits the application of the Bill toany book, magazine or other like work which consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures …Therefore, if the whole publication does not consist wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures it escapes the Bill.
§ Mr. Follick
Would not the hon. Member agree that there should be incorporated a provision that newspapers generally should not give reports of brutality and the like, which youngsters might read and thereby have their minds influenced?
§ Sir H. Linstead
That is a theme which the hon. Member might care to develop if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker.
The first escape provision which the draftsman has had to import into the Bill has the effect of letting out any horror comic cartoon which is published in any publication the greater part of the contents of which is not pictures but words. In other words, the cartoon of which I read a description in quoting from a speech by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test, will only be illegal 1100 under the Bill if it is in a book which is restricted to pictures and cartoons. It would not be so if it were in some publication in which it was mainly surrounded by letterpress.
One can see the case quite clearly in a publication such as the one which I now show to the House. It has a page of cartoons, but the greater part of it consists of letterpress. If the publishers of that publication chose to put in the publication the type of horror cartoon which I have mentioned they would not be struck at by the Bill. That seems to me one very strong reason, if not for its withdrawal, at least for the most careful examination of the Bill in Committee, because in that respect the Bill does not strike at the very thing at which it was designed to strike.
The second matter to which I want to draw the attention of the House, and to which I have already drawn the attention of the Home Secretary in a letter, is that I believe that this is one occasion on which the House, carried forward on a wave of public opinion, is in danger of doing serious injustice to publishers, not of the horror comic but of the ordinary type of Western and detective story and "space man" comic, to which the right hon. and learned Member for Neepsend drew attention.
We may all have our own views about the value of these publications. Some people may feel that they are trash but in them, by and large, black is black, white is white, right is right, wrong is wrong, and virtue triumphs in the end, and, generally, these publications put a premium on courage, which is perhaps not a bad virtue to underline in the world today. The difficulty to which the Bill puts publishers of legitimate comics—although "comics" is perhaps not the best description of them—is that these publishers have their ordinary trade channels of distribution and they have their ordinary set conventions of stories, authors and artists, which have run on for many years. Inevitably, violence is a part of the story which they have to tell, even if it is only a straightforward cowboy and Indian act of violence.
It will be clear from careful reading of the Bill that an act of violence or cruelty is only hit by the Bill if the work as a whole has certain defects. That is all right from the point of view of the 1101 law, but it is not all right from the point of view of the small stationer who has to handle these comics. Not unnaturally, distributors have already gone back to the publishers. In letters, of which I have some copies, they have said, "We want an undertaking that any material we handle is outside the scope of the Bill. Failing that we drop it. We are not going to run the risk of prosecution."
This brings us immediately to the basic difficulty created by a Bill of this kind, to which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) and the hon. Member for Stechford referred. The Bill will be interpreted by hundreds of petty sessional courts, whose opinion about what is violent and what is not violent and what may tend to corrupt and not corrupt may depend on the individual views of individual magistrates.
It seems to me that publishers of legitimate comics have an unanswerable case when they say to the House, "Do not come along on a wave of public opinion and do irreparable damage to a perfectly legitimate piece of publication which has given enjoyment and satisfaction to many generations of young people." The answer to that is the answer which my hon. and learned Friend gave. He said that consent to a prosecution should be given from some central point. It might be the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Attorney-General or the Home Secretary. If that is not done, it seems to me that we are to have sporadic prosecutions by the police or private prosecutors all over the country, with gross injustice done to publishers, because the ordinary stationer will be afraid to handle their products. I very much hope that when we come to the Committee stage an Amendment to have a centralised authority for prosecutions will be moved.
I recognise that with the present current of opinion in the country and the House the Bill must be given its Second Reading. But we all believe that the fewer prosecutions there are under it, or even if there are none at all, its purpose will be achieved, because it will have served as a warning.
I would ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to give consideration to these points. Will he give as much time as possible between now and the Committee stage to allow the Amendments and views 1102 that have not yet reached him from the publishing trade to be considered? Secondly, will he consider whether it is necessary to use the word "violence" without any qualification at all and whether it should not be "violence" linked with moral turpitude or something of that kind? Also, would my right hon. and gallant Friend consider whether one month is a sufficient time after the passing of the Act for it to be brought into operation? I myself think that a period like three months should be the period, for it would enable all concerned to settle down and adjust themselves to the new conditions.
Finally, I hope it will be possible to introduce a centralised authority for prosecutions so that we do not get sporadic prosecutions all over the country.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)
I do not think the Home Secretary can be altogether pleased at the reception which his Bill has so far been given, because all the speeches from the back benches have been highly critical of it and the last two or three have certainly gone very far, almost to the point of demanding the withdrawal of the Bill.
I think that that is an illustration of its real defect—that it is slipshod, that it has been drawn up in an haphazard and an inadequate fashion, that it is dealing with a complicated subject, and that the Home Secretary, instead of applying his mind and that of his Department to the whole subject, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) said in a very powerful speech, has neglected the advice that has been given by the Society of Authors and others who have a great deal to say on the matter. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has, in fact, produced a very inadequate Bill.
The defect of the Bill could be defined by saying either that it is inoperable or that it is so widely embracing that it becomes a threat to freedom. The hon. Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) indicated that every publisher who publishes a whole series of horror comics plus letterpress as well may, under the terms of the Bill as it stands, be able to get away with it, although neither I nor anyone else can understand on what principle it should be argued that action 1103 should be taken to stop this kind of publication if it happens to be accompanied by some kind of letterpress as well.
Surely it cannot be argued that it is wrong to publish these horror comics by themselves, but if they are accompanied with some horrific letterpress then they are quite all right. We know that the Government have got into the position of stating this proposition in the Bill, because somebody in the Home Office must have thought that at some point there had better be some regard for free speech and free expression of opinion. Therefore, they put this reference aboutwholly or mainly of stories told in picturesin order to give some protection and the Home Secretary is now relying on it as being his main protection.
We know that if this Bill goes through in the form in which it is cast, that protection is likely to be broken down. When magistrates come to examine such issues, they are not going to be so crazy as the people in the Home Office who think that these distinctions do really exist. The magistrates will argue that if Parliament passed a Bill in order to suppress these horrible horror comics we must have meant it to apply to these publications even though some letterpress is included in them. That is how the Bill is likely to operate.
If we go further and say that the Bill is to be amended to include horror comics which are not wholly or mainly in pictures, but are accompanied by some kind of letterpress, if, in other words, we are to make the Government's intentions logical, the Bill becomes very widely embracing indeed. For example, what about the large number of newspapers which are published in this country?
§ Mr. Foot
Yes, I was thinking of that. I had the "Daily Mirror" in mind. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice) gave a list of the things which were supposed to be discussed in these horror comics, death murder, sex and sadism. It is a very apt list of the staple product of a large section of the Sunday Press. I quote what has been said by my political opponent at the last election, Mr. Randolph Churchill. 1104 He said quite a lot on this subject, referring in particular to the "Daily Mirror." This is what he said:The principles, or lack of them, by which its mammoth circulation has been brought about are carefully explained. Crime and sex are the staple commodities which Geraldine House purveys … to a hungry world.I do not think that many hon. Members would deny that definition.
But there are other journals, like the "Weekend Mail" and "Reveille," which have had phenomenal increases in circulation. The most spectacular increase in newspaper sales of that kind in the past ten years is due, I think most people would say, to the fact that the staple product which these newspapers sell is pornography in one form or another. That is how they have built up their sales.
There was also the spectacular increase in the sales of the "Sunday Dispatch" which was almost entirely due to the publication of a whole series of salacious serials, like "Emma," "Caroline," and "Lucretia," over a period with one following the other in sequence. All these ladies had a common attraction, and through it they helped to put up the sales of Lord Rothermere's "Sunday Dispatch."
§ Mr. Foot
It started the series, and as a result enormous revenues have accrued to Lord Rothermere to such an extent that Mr. Randolph Churchill said he thought that Lord Rothermere ought to qualify for the title of "Pornographer Royal." Everybody knows this to be true. Everybody also knows that under the law of obscenity, to which my hon. Friend referred, as it was applied 30, 40 or 50 years ago, almost all these journals would come under its definition. Yet nobody in the House as far as I know thinks that any legal action should be taken against these newspapers. But surely this illustrates the difficulty of making a distinction.
I am not suggesting for a second that legal action should be taken against these newspapers. Heaven forbid! I think the way to deal with them and their proprietors is to identify those who make their living by the sale of pornography. Lord Rothermere, as we are told by Mr. Randolph Churchill, is at the head of the list, although there is fierce competition. They all should be identified. I do not 1105 suggest that they should be suppressed, but everyone should know what kind of trade they are in. But the very fact that these journals might be held guilty of committing the same kind of crime with which this Bill is supposed to deal illustrates how difficult it is to draw a line. Therefore, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman should have been very much more careful in devising this Bill. He should have taken much more advice before he started on it.
It is not surprising perhaps that the Home Office has dealt with only one aspect of this matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Stechford referred to the trials that have taken place of eminent publishers in the last few months. I think a great deal more ought to be said on that matter because, perhaps, the fact that innocent people have been prosecuted is a more important fact than that some horror comics might be circulated. It is not surprising that the Home Office, from what we have known of it in the past, is more eager to devise more ways of prosecuting than of liberating.
§ Major Lloyd-George indicated dissent.
§ Major Lloyd-George
I think the hon. Member would agree that this matter, which is not relevant to this Bill—I am not complaining of that—is one which no one denies is an extremely difficult and complicated matter, and has been for many years. It is receiving very careful consideration, but that could not be done in a very short time.
§ Mr. Foot
I think the Home Secretary has now made a much better speech than he made earlier. He has made the case against the Bill. He has stumbled into all these difficulties and complications. He need not take my speech as an illustration, but the speeches delivered on either side of the House in this debate. The last speech illustrated what complicated difficulties the Home Secretary has stumbled into in dealing with this Bill. One does not reduce the difficulties by dealing with one aspect of the matter, but rather this method enhances them. 1106 It would, in fact, have been simpler to try to deal with the whole range of the difficulties.
The Home Office is much more eager to suppress than to deal with injustice done to individuals under the law with which this matter is associated. It is no use the Home Secretary saying that these matters are not associated with that existing obscenity law because, in his original speech, he said that when the Home Office looked at the question of horror comics it tried first to see whether it should deal with the question under the law of obscenity. Having taken that course and looked at that law, surely he should have been more outraged at what has been happening to innocent publishers serving the public of this country in the last few years.
Some examples have been given by my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford; I will give another example, that of Mr. Frederick Warburg, a most eminent and respected publisher. This is what he said, and it is most relevant to this Bill. In the court he was charged with exactly the offence with which some will be charged under this Measure. He said:The charge of publishing an obscene libel, a lewd book, a piece of pornography, call it what you will, is an exceptionally nasty one. For the sake of money you are accused of corrupting the minds of men and women, in particular you are accused of corrupting a young boy or girl into whose hands the book may fall.Mr. Warburg was accused of that crime and for several months had to live under the shadow of that charge. When he got to the court he had many well-known writers who wished to come forward—Malcolm Muggeridge, Walter Allen, C. P. Snow and Graham Greene. All were prepared to give evidence in the witness box on his behalf, but under the existing law none was allowed to appear in the witness box. Does not the Home Secretary think that is outrageous? Under the law we are proposing to pass I understand that the same procedure will apply and, in the same circumstances, a publisher would not be able to call eminent witnesses of that kind, just as Mr. Warburg was denied that right.
It may be said, "What are you shedding tears for? Mr. Warburg fought and won." He did, and all honour to him. English freedom owes much more to Mr. Warburg than to the Home Secretary, 1107 but if the Home Secretary had any sympathy for a man who is charged and has to undergo that ordeal, he could have dealt with that question instead of introducing this piecemeal Bill. Some other publishers were not so successful as Mr. Warburg.
That is not the only danger because. Director of Prosecutions, for some unknown reason, has restarted this kind of campaign, just as a former Home Secretary—Joynson-Hicks—did in the twenties. It may be because of a campaign about horror comics or for some other reason. In an atmosphere of suppression, it is not the individual cases that come before the courts which matter so much as the general effect produced on what booksellers are prepared to sell or libraries are prepared to stock. It may be that many people engaged in the business of selling these products will take action which they think is necessary according to the law, but which in fact would not be upheld in the courts at all. The vague fear all contributes to suppression.
No one need think that this is a fantastic fear. In 1891, there was a furious denunciation of "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" and "Jude the Obscure." The worst thing that happened in consequence was that Smiths withdrew those books from circulation. They withdrew them, not because of a legal decision, but because they wanted to protect themselves against a legal decision of which they thought there was even a faint possibility. As the hon. Member for Putney said, that is a real danger in this Bill.
Another example is that in 1895 all the libraries of this country declined to stock George Moore's "Esther Waters." That is an illustration of what can happen when we introduce a Measure of this kind. We create a fear much more widespread than the precise Measure we are proposing to pass through the House of Commons intends to create. And, heaven knows, the Home Secretary cannot claim that the Measure he is introducing is precisely and neatly defined. It is so widely embracing that it could cause even bigger fears than the law of obscenity in 1857.
Another danger was indicated by the hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster), who asked whether the person who made the drawings which would come under the proscription of this 1108 Bill could be prosecuted under the Bill. It is not clear whether a state of affairs might arise where a bookseller and publisher could be prosecuted but not the perpetrator of the drawings. There is an opposite danger, illustrated under the law of obscenity Act as it stands. An author might have produced a book—or, if we apply it to this case, someone might have made a drawing—and he might then be deprived of the right of defending himself, and for this reason: that if the bookseller pleads guilty the author has not a chance of defending himself That happened in the case of Havelock Ellis and his famous book, "Sexual Inversion," which everyone now regards as a classic. He had prepared his defence and wanted to go to court to defend himself but was denied the right to do so because the bookseller has already decided to plead guilty. This is what the magistrate said about Havelock Ellis's book:It is impossible for anybody with a head on his shoulders to open the book without seeing that it is a pretence and a sham and that it is merely entered into for the purpose of selling this obscene publication.If people could say that about Havelock Ellis's book, do not let anybody be dogmatic today about saying that the Bill could not be improperly used. There should certainly be provision in it for the author to be able to defend himself, and that ought to be provided under the law of obscenity, if only the Home Secretary was prepared to deal with it.
It may be argued by some people that we need not have these fears because this relates only to pictorial matters and the publication of pictures which are regarded as repulsive and horrible and that in that sense there is no fear. Other examples have been given such as that by Sir Alan Herbert about the works of Hogarth, and I suppose that might be excluded from proscription under this Bill because there was some letterpress. However, only on Saturday I bought a copy of "Hudibras" illustrated by Hogarth, and certainly some of the drawings are horrific. I am sure that a magistrate looking at it might at any rate be able to say that it should be the intention of Parliament to deal with it.
I have never seen "Gulliver's Travels" properly illustrated for children, but if it were I am certain that it would be something that even the "Daily Mirror" would not serialise. If one were to do 1109 the job properly one would have to do it in the most horrific fashion.
If any hon. Gentleman says that these examples are fantastic, let us take the famous case in the United States in 1937 of a film called "Birth of a Baby" made by the American Committee on Maternal Welfare. The film was refused a licence for public exhibition by the State Commission of Education for New York State. "Life" magazine then published a series of photographs from the film. Four news dealers were arrested for selling the magazine, and the editor of "Life" sold a copy to a detective as a test case and was arrested.
The case was fought and it was won in the interests of freedom. This was partly because "Life" magazine was a powerful organisation prepared to fight it and because Mr. Morris Ernst, the well known United States lawyer who has fought so many of these cases, was prepared to fight on this particular issue. It was a pictorial production which some authorities in the United States regarded as being pornographic and something which should be suppressed. However, the reason why the magazine succeeded in winning the case might be that in some respects at least and in some states in the U.S.A. the law of obscenity is better than ours; and it is better than ours on precisely the point which the Home Secretary this afternoon dismissed in such a trifling fashion.
I want now to quote from the judgment given by Judge John Woolsey in the famous "Ulysses" case in the United States. It was under that judgment that the fight was made and those who fought were able to prevent the suppression of "Ulysses" in certain States of the U.S.A. The judge said:In any case where a book is claimed to be obscene, it must be determined whether the intent with which it was written was what is called, according to the usual phrase, pornographic, that is written for the purpose of exploiting obscenity.That is part of the most famous judgment given in the United States on the whole issue, and yet the Home Secretary, so much wiser than Judge John Woolsey, is prepared to say that it is quite impossible to have a real definition of "intent." If he did not say it was quite impossible——
§ Major Lloyd-George
The hon. Gentleman has made a mistake. I made two 1110 references to "intent." I have here a copy of what I actually said. I first said that if one uses "intent" as one uses the word in ordinary every-day life, that would be quite impossible because all the man would need to do to avoid a conviction would be to say that it was not his intention. I went on to say that if, on the other hand, the word was used in the sense that a man must be presumed to intend the reasonable results of his action, the test becomes an objective one and the question for decision is whether a particular publication would, in fact, tend to corrupt, which is the principle on which the Clause is based.
§ Mr. Foot
Once again, the Home Secretary has underlined the whole point. There is a distinction between whether one can have intention as the test or the test as under the Hicklin judgment. There is a choice, and faced with this choice the Home Secretary has chosen the words which were incorporated in the Hicklin judgment, where as we are saying, and the Society of Authors argued in a long memorandum to the Home Secretary, that the test should be that of intention. The Home Secretary says that one cannot do that, or, at any rate, that for some reason it would be very difficult. What I am arguing is that if he says that it is so difficult he ought before introducing a Bill of this nature to understand what is done in, for instance, the United States and many other countries. Many countries have dealt with the difficulty in a more liberal fashion than we have. It is a great pity that when he was tackling the subject the Home Secretary did not study what had been presented to him by persons who have reason to know about the subject. Above all, he should have considered the case of persons who have been persecuted under the present law.
I hope that we shall at least have a promise from the Home Secretary that he will introduce a Bill as soon as possible to dispel the fear of honest publishers. In any case, whether he makes such a promise or not, it has already been fully shown that the Bill, if it is to be adequate for the purpose defined by the Home Secretary, involves the greatest dangers and certainly dangers upon which we should not embark without examining the whole range of the problem which is presented at this time. Therefore, I appeal 1111 to him to withdraw the Bill in view of the protests which have been made against it from all sides of the House.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
The last three speeches from both sides of the House have expressed great doubts about the Bill. I must say at once that I share those doubts, and for very much the same reasons.
In the first place, I do not like the objective test put forward in the Bill for intent to corrupt, any more than I like the objective test which is at present applied in cases of obscenity. I understand the difficulty which the Home Secretary put forward about adopting the criterion of intention. When I say I think intention should be the test, I mean "intention," not in its legal sense of intent, which, as my right hon. and gallant Friend rightly says, is an objective test. If we use "intent" to signify that a man is presumed to intend the natural consequence of his acts, it is true that we have abolished intention at the same time as we have put it in; but if we use "intention" to mean actual intention then I cannot agree with my right hon. and gallant Friend that a man could evade the test by simply going into the witness box and repeating, "I did not mean to corrupt, and I had not that intention when I wrote or drew the publication or when I published it."
After all, there is before the court one other extremely cogent piece of evidence, the offending matter, pictures or letterpress, and from the pictures or letterpress the court is entitled to decide that it does not believe the man's evidence that he did not mean it and had not got the requisite intention. So it is unduly simplifying the problem to say that the man can get out of his difficulty just by saying that he did not mean it. I cannot help feeling that if words were used which made it clear that actual intention was the test of what the man meant, the courts would not find it difficult to apply that test in a clear case. If the case is not clear, then surely it is most important that the man should be acquitted.
The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) and my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) both mentioned what I have felt was the Bill's main defect. It had to be limited to allow reasonable freedom of expression, and it 1112 is limited by being made to apply only where the book, magazine, or other work consists wholly or largely of pictures. As so drafted the Bill falls down, because any publisher of horror comics who seriously wants to get round that can do so. He has only to publish a six page magazine of which three and a half pages are letterpress and two and a half pages are pictures and he has clearly defeated the Bill's purpose.
So one cannot really stop horror comics by a Bill with such ample provision for safety. If, on the other hand, as the hon. Member for Devonport and my hon. Friend the Member for Putney pointed out, one tightens up the Bill to close that loophole and make it apply to a horror strip or series of horror strips in a newspaper, or any other publication, then one also wipes out the safeguard and all sorts of things will be included under the provisions of the Bill. My right hon. and gallant Friend said that the big safeguard was this stipulation about the pictorial nature of the matter.
Then I come on to the rather broader considerations which worry everybody in the House. We have all seen these horror comics either directly or in reproduction. We all think that they are disgusting and that the trade in them is a ghastly trade. We should all like to do something about it, but equally we are all very keenly aware of the danger of putting on the Statute Book Acts of censorship which accumulate and which, as time passes, are used for purposes which the Parliament that passed them never intended or even conceived.
There are some very interesting examples of that. I remember one Act passed in the 19th century—not really a censorship Act—to prohibit the printing of British or foreign stamps, or possessing plates for printing them. Parliament wanted to stop forgery in stamps, but the prosecutions which followed were mainly of publishers of stamp albums. As the Lord Chief Justice said in one of those successful prosecutions:He is quite clearly guilty and not only that, the detective who has brought the plates here to prove his guilt is, in my opinion, equally guilty of the offence himself, because he was in possession of these etchings.Last year we passed the Prevention of Crime Act prohibiting the possession of certain kinds of weapons. Several hon. 1113 Members on both sides of the House expressed some disquiet about it, because we thought that as time passed that would also come to be applied in rather surprising ways.
We were reassured that merely decorative accoutrements would never be touched by that. But I saw that in Scotland the other day a man was convicted of wearing a ceremonial sword at a dance. In England there was a similar conviction for a similar sort of offence, although in England on appeal the conviction was quashed.
§ Mr. Bell
I must confess to the hon. Member that I cannot clearly remember after this time whether it was a dirk, skean-dhu, or a sword, but it was one of them.
I quote that only to show that what is clearly in the mind of the Parliament which passes the Act has little effect when, as time passes, the courts have only the text in front of them to decide how to apply the provisions of the Act.
The provisions of this Bill are that it is an offence to publish pictures of a repulsive or horrible nature. There is a great variety of opinions about what is repulsive and what is horrible. As the hon. Member for Devonport rightly said, a lot of us would put the "Daily Mirror" in that category and, perhaps, not confine our attitude about that only to the "Daily Mirror." There are many publications which Members would say it is monstrously wrong to suppress by law, but some magistrates somewhere, or some judge, at some time—and that is the point—might decide they were horrible.
Then comes "tend to corrupt." The whole argument of human philosophy, the great debate that goes on in our lives from generation to generation, is about what it is that tends to corrupt and what tends to ennoble. Hon. Members on both sides of the House sometimes have very different ideas about what corrupts and what improves. It is the very stuff of human disagreement. I could not help thinking, when the right hon. and learned Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice) said that this was in line with previous statutes and that Parliament had intervened on many occasions to protect children over cigarettes, drugs and drink, 1114 that this is the food of the mind. I can unashamedly quote Milton:Repasting of the mind ought to be arbitrary.Not one of those precedents he quoted referred to filtering the reading, the mental experiences of children. That is the intention here, and it is a most dangerous intention.
The responsibility is first with the parents and with the schoolmasters. It is a great responsibility for Parliament to decide that we will make children virtuous by keeping them away——
§ Mr. Maurice Orbach (Willesden, East)
The actions we have taken for limiting children's access to the cinema or films have that objection.
§ Mr. Bell
The hon. Member has made a valid point. It is quite true that we have set up film censorship. It is equally true that there exists theatrical censorship under the authority of law exercised by the Lord Chamberlain. I unashamedly say that I disagree with it and regard it as a blemish in both cases, so there is no logical inconsistency in my argument.
If children are to be protected in their youth from these questionable influences, what kind of children will we get when they grow up, if children are never taught to see things of which they disapprove? Again I quote. If they are not to have the chance of finding out:the utmost that vice can offer her followers"—
§ Mr. Bell
I am talking about influences on the mind. My hon. Friend mentions poison, but that is an absurd comparison.
If we banish the risk of their seeing undesirable periodicals and publications in their childhood, what will they do when they come up against "No Orchids for Miss Blandish" in their adolescence, if all they have had is a fencing out of their experience. The only way in which a child can obtain strength and maturity of judgment is by being gradually inoculated through wise parents and wise teachers and given an opportunity of judgment between good and evil in increasingly difficult doses until it has formed a judgment which is mature, because it is confident, because the child 1115 has exercised free will all the way along, although I would be the first to admit, of course, that the experience must be screened and modulated by parents and teachers. I do not believe that it is the function of Parliament to do that job by statute.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that when they see these horror comics young people are unable to discriminate, and if——
§ Mr. Thomas
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could when he was six, but the normal person, the average person, is not so gifted. Therefore there will not be the choice in adolescence to which the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) referred.
§ Mr. Bell
May I point out to the hon. Member that I am not putting in a plea for horror comics, I think that they are a thoroughly bad thing. I am saying, first, that the responsibility for keeping children away from something they think the child too immature to judge is the responsibility of the parents; and secondly, that this Bill, if it becomes an Act, will as the years pass, certainly not be limited to horror comics. It will remain an Act of censorship and the hon. Member will be surprised to see what use is being made of it in 10 or 15 years' time.
§ Mr. Osborne
My hon. Friend is arguing that it is up to the parents to protect their children. What of children who have no parents and no one to protect them?
§ Mr. Bell
With respect to my hon. Friend, I said that it was for the parents to protect and to teach and, I say frankly, to expose children from time to time to temptations within their intellectual reach. Are we to legislate for that tiny category of children to which my hon. Friend refers, if indeed any exist in our modern society? Are there orphans who have no foster homes?
§ Mr. Bell
Are there no institutions? Is no care provided of any kind? Is there no provision in our present day society for such children? How many are there who are waifs and strays? I doubt 1116 whether any such child exists in the length and breadth of our country today, and I think that the point put by my hon. Friend is quite unreal.
I do not wish to spoil my argument by overstating it. These are big issues before the House today, and I hope that no hon. Member will caricature the point of view I am advancing. It is not a thing about which one may be absolute, but I put it to the House that we must be very careful before placing such a Measure as this on the Statute Book. We do not want our children to grow up entirely protected from all but pre-digested influences. We want them to be reasonably robust in their judgment.
We must remember also, whatever we may think about children, that we want adults to be robust in their judgment. This Bill does not only strike at writings and drawings intended for children, but at any writings and drawings, if they would tend to corrupt children or young persons into whose hands they might fall. That covers almost everything. How are we to define what is intended to corrupt either for children or grown-ups?
The hon. Member for Devonport made a powerful speech in which he appealed for a reform in the law relating to obscenity, and I associate myself with him. May I add that I am in grave doubt about this law altogether. Intention is the better test, but how are we to define intention?
When I was an undergraduate at Oxford I read French and Italian literature. I was recommended to make a special study of the "Decameron," the works of Rabelais and the "Heptameron" of the Queen of Navarre—[Laughter.] There is no need for hon. Members, especially those who are pressing for this Bill, to be so amused about that. I read them with great care. The question I would put to the House is, how does one arrive at a definition which would make the "Decameron" safe, supposing it had not been written 100 years ago but was being published now?
The hon. Member for Devonport put forward a criterion by which test it would fall, the intention to exploit sex. In the "Decameron" that is done with wonderful grace. The "Decameron" is almost a renaissance; it is a wonderful preoccupation with the individual and the human body and spirit. It embodies the spirit 1117 of the Renaissance, but I do not know how one would put that in an Act of Parliament. If grace be the test, what about Rabelais? There is no grace, but a tremendous grossness. There we have a really gross work, and yet who would want to ban Rabelais? But: suppose he were published today; suppose Rabelais were a new author of whom we had not heard and he published "Pantagruel" or "Gargantua"?
Then there is the "Heptameron" of the Queen of Navearre, obviously the work of an over-sexed woman, a prurient work in many ways, but who would want to ban that? I cannot attempt to define what it is that distinguishes such works from works of pornography, yet I know that there is a distinction. What I should want to see in a law regarding obscenity or horror, if we have to have one at all, is something exceedingly narrow, so as to allow a lot of guilty people to escape rather than that any work of real value should be caught.
It may be that there is a present phenomenon in these horror comics about which something should be done. I have considerable doubts about it, but possibly that is so. If it is, I wish to say now that in my opinion we should put this Bill on the Statute Book only if it contains a time Clause. It will not do much harm during the next three or five years, because everyone will be aware of the reasons for which it was passed. But three or five years from now no one knows what use may be made of such a Measure. I hope therefore that, if the Bill goes to a Committee, we shall insert a time limit so that it will be applied by judges and benches of magistrates who at least know exactly what Parliament had in mind when the Measure was passed.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
We have listened to a number of speeches from hon. Gentlemen who are opposed to the Bill; and my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) was quite right when he said that the Minister himself felt uncomfortable. But I wish to speak in support of the Bill, however.
The hon. Member for Buckingham shire, South (Mr. R. Bell) made an amazing proposition that anything should be available to our young people at any age——
§ Mr. Thomas
As I understood the hon. Gentleman, he was arguing that it is wrong to censor what young people read.
§ Mr. Thomas
The hon. Gentleman does not know much about young people.
Neither the teacher nor the parent is with the youngster all the time. The damage is done, not when youngsters are with their parents or teachers, but when they are away from the influence of the home or the school. It is exactly at that point that Parliament has a responsibility, and must step in.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) and my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport both made eloquent speeches about the law relating to obscenity and libel. But, for the purpose of their argument, they forgot the child. The whole point of this Bill is to protect children from being exploited by people who are not concerned with the welfare of young children, but whose only concern is about the capital which they can make. My hon. Friends may well have a case to make about the need for the revision of the law of obscenity and libel. I am not here to argue against it, but I think that they are being shortsighted in the extreme to stand in the way of this measure of protection for children because they cannot have what they want. It reminds me of the dog in the manger.
I realise that this is not a trifling Measure. The House gets excited whenever a question of the liberty of the subject is involved, and that is a good thing. It is right that hon. Members on both sides of the House should be concerned about guarding the liberties of our people, and any restrictive Measure requires the anxious consideration of the House. But civilisation itself rests upon the voluntary acceptance of inhibitions by the people, and this Bill is in perfect harmony with what our fathers have thought necessary to protect our standard of life.
We have experienced two world wars which have served to reduce certain values that were formerly highly 1119 cherished. We have seen a falling away of standards in the years following the wars, and inevitably there is a need for the House to concern itself with what is happening to our young people. My view is that this Measure aims at protecting not so much children as adolescents, such as the young Service man who can hardly read but who is wallowing in the filth of these publications and who ends up before the magistrates. He is the fellow who might be saved by the Bill.
§ Mr. Thomas
By all means let us teach him to read, but we have to deal with people as they are.
I do not want to put him in the Army. I should not even put my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport in the Army—not even after his speech this afternoon. Although adolescents may come from good homes and be well educated, they are passing through a time of special stress and strain. The development of the individual in these years is critical, and can lead either to the honourable citizen or to the pervert; to misery or to happiness. It is all-important that everything which can be done to help the weaker of the adolescents shall be done.
I am not a lawyer, and I do not know whether the Bill is couched in the best language, but I am a schoolmaster, and I know that every teacher has been disturbed by the horror comics which have been available to our young people. I am grateful to the Home Secretary and to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice) for the tribute they paid this afternoon to the National Union of Teachers. That Union has played a not undistinguished part in the campaign which has led to the production of the Bill.
Teaching is not an easy profession. I worked in it for 13 years, and one of my attempted jokes is that I was rescued in 1945. That is not quite true.
§ Mr. Thomas
My hon. Friend is a very clever man.
The teaching profession is an honourable one, and it calls for a great deal from those who give their lives to it. 1120 When, as a profession, it warns the nation that it is disturbed about an issue of this sort, the nation is obliged to listen. The Minister of Education and the Home Secretary have special responsibilities in this regard——
§ Mr. Thomas
—and the school care committees.
The teaching profession has a right to look to this House for support when it takes an important stand. The position of the teachers in regard to the taking away of comics from children in school is not an easy one. The National Union of Teachers has sent advice from its legal adviser to teachers all over the country urging them to be on the alert—if urging were needed—in this matter, but in the end that remains the negative side of this question. The Bill is negative because it seeks to restrict and prohibit.
There is a positive side. Parents need not feel that their duty is done when the Bill is passed. A special obligation rests upon those who bring children into the world to see that they are brought up with clean and honourable minds and are given the best literature to read. A more positive approach is also needed from the publishers. They need not be frightened at this legislation. It will hit only those who publish literature which might tend to degrade the minds or to spoil the values of young people—and those publishers deserve to be hit. I have no pity for people who, for purposes of finance, are willing to exploit the minds of young people.
It is also important that school publishers shall produce more literature for what I call the slow-reading type—the one who finds it easier to look at the pictures. If one is a poor reader it requires moral effort to stick to the words when one can absorb in what the pictures are saying. It is important that the publishing profession shall realise that its moral obligations are as great as those of teachers and parents in this respect, and the House has a right to ask it to remember that fact.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
Has the National Union of Teachers made a point about that?
§ Mr. Thomas
Yes. The National Union of Teachers is in close touch with the school publishers and is on the very best of terms with them.
The school publishers are doing a magnificent job. They do not produce this sort of muck. They produce literature or comics which have no harmful effect. But the people across the water or at home who have been cashing in on this unworthy market deserve to suffer the severest penalties.
The National Union of Teachers has called upon its members to do everything in their power to combat the effects of these comics and the reading of them, but it can appeal to its members only on behalf of children, and a great moral and social problem remains in relation to the adolescents. The House will avoid that problem at its peril.
We shall not be doing our duty to the nation if we close our eyes to the fact that the majority of young people are not touched by our youth activities. They are outside the fellowship of the young people's organisations, and, unless this Measure, or one similar in kind, is passed, we shall be exposing such young people to influences that are harmful to the nation as a whole. As a schoolmaster, I wish the Bill well.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ The Minister of Education (Sir David Eccles)
May I say a word or two in reply to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas)? I think he raised a very important point. I have already asked Her Majesty's Inspectors to take paticular care to see that there is an adequate supply of books, not only in classrooms but also in libraries. I take the view that one of the best ways of killing these comics is to provide a decent alternative, and, of course, especially in the new secondary modern schools—which have not yet had time to get going—it is important that the libraries should be built up with stocks of books as soon as possible. I should like to assure the hon. Gentleman that that matter is being looked at, and also that the publishers are co-operating very well.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Nicolson (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)
I am very glad that the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) ended his speech with 1122 a homily to publishers, and that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education also intervened to say a few words on the same subject, because I must disclose to the House at once that I am a publisher of children's illustrated books. but not of horror comics.
I have an obvious interest in this debate. I do not want to be imprisoned, to have my premises invaded or my property confiscated, and I can only avoid those penalties if I know more precisely than this Bill tells me what I may publish and what I may not.
In no way do I object to the Bill in its intention. I think I can speak for most publishers when I say that we welcome any Measure which saves our profession from the blight of these discreditable practises which are adopted by very few of us. Therefore, we welcome the Bill, because we foresee that if some action is not taken, there will come a time when the horror comic becomes even more horrible. We are just at the beginning of this problem, and there is only one direction in which that type of publisher can go, and that is downwards, because his very trade is degradation.
That does not mean to say that I like this Bill in its present form. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary, in his introductory speech, said that he himself would be pleased if the Bill could be amended in Committee, and if I have the good fortune to be a member of the Standing Committee if the Bill goes upstairs, I shall attempt to insert a few suggestions of my own.
I will now deal only with the principle. I object to the Bill in its present form because of its vagueness. First, it is vague in defining the type of publication meant. We are told that it is only to apply to pictorial books or those which are mainly pictorial, but we are given no indication whether that will exclude magazines which include a lot of pictures.
We are also told that it applies only to publications which may fall into the hands of children, but we find it very difficult to distinguish between books specifically published for children and every other type of publication. Furthermore, there is no exclusion from the terms of the Bill of what are familiarly known as children's classics. There is no exclusion of picture books based upon familiar 1123 Bible stories, or fairy stories. No distinction is made between drawings and photographs; both equally come under the ban.
It should be realised that any book which contains a great many illustrations thereby primarily becomes a picture book. Every publisher knows that illustrations kill the text. One has only to watch any hon. Member of this House reading a copy of "Punch," "Picture Post," or the "Illustrated London News" to see how quickly he flicks over a page of photographs and turns to the next page of photographs, skipping, in nine cases out of 10, all the textual matter in between. What we are really dealing with here is what we commonly mean by magazines.
In the second place, the real test is the effect upon children of these particular types of publication; and, here again, the publisher is left in some doubt. This Bill, by its very existence, makes a moral judgment. It says that horror comics are not desirable. But it shirks the consequential moral judgment that follows upon the first, in failing to distinguish between different types of brutality, violence, or repulsiveness, and that distinction is an absolutely vital one.
Tom Brown flies at the bully; the bully flies at Tom Brown. Both are equally culpable under this Bill, since both are examples of violence for the boy to imitate. A boy is naturally violent. Is he to be violent in the bully's way or in Tom Brown's way? We think that that moral distinction should be made in the Bill itself.
Thirdly, no distinction is made between a book or magazine dealing with crime in a sympathetic way and one dealing with it in an accusatory way. A criminal may get off scot free in the story, and he may be represented either as a reprehensible figure or as an admirable figure. He may be punished or not, but both types of story dealing with crime come under the ban of Clause 1. Again, a distinction should be made.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
Is it not the case that in Clause 1 the operative word is "corrupt," and, therefore, if there were illustrations of violence with a moral end in view, that clearly would not tend to corrupt? On the other hand, of course, if there were 1124 scenes of flagellation or sexual sadism, that would tend to corrupt.
§ Mr. Nicolson
The hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) knows very well that children do not easily make moral judgments themselves. Raffles is a very good example. To most of us, Raffles is a "good" criminal, and he might easily be imitated by children given no other protection. We allow Raffles, and I think rightly so, but in general, we should distinguish between criminals who are represented as good people and those who are represented as bad, and the Bill itself makes no distinction between the two.
When we come to the question of cruelty, it is very difficult for the publisher to decide what will be regarded as cruel or not. We recently published a book—not a magazine, but an illustrated book—which, as hon. Members can see from the copy I hold in my hand, is a reproduction of a very famous children's story—"Pinocchio." This was originally written in Italian in 1883; it has been translated many times, and this is just one of a dozen such editions which have appeared recently.
Soon after its publication, we received a letter from a parent complaining most bitterly of the contents of this book, which she did not regard as suitable for children. She described it as "vicious in the extreme," and referred to several passages in the book which supported her claim. I should like to read one such passage to the House.
As most hon. Members know, Pinocchio is a puppet which has come to life, and, in the course of his adventures, he visits a farm where his foot is caught in a rabbit trap. I proceed with the quotation:What with the agonising twinges of the snare gripping his shins, and his fright at finding himself quite alone in the dark, in the middle of strange fields, the puppet started to feel faint; when suddenly he saw a Firefly flitting overhead, and he called to him and said: 'Oh, my little Firefly, would you be so very kind as to free me from this torture?' 'Poor little son,' answered the Firefly, … 'How on earth did you get your legs stuck in those gruesome pieces of iron?'That passage was picked out by the parent as being of so repulsive a nature that no decent publisher should publish it. But in my opinion, the passage cannot qualify as "repulsive" or "horrible," because it introduces a note of fantasy with 1125 the firefly. In other words, as soon as a fantasy or fairy-story atmosphere is introduced we get away from the definition in Clause 1. The child no longer believes that we are dealing with things that might actually happen in fact. He is away in the clouds, in his own fairyland of imagination, where these horror incidents carry nothing like the same weight as if the fantasy had not been introduced.
Every respectable publisher looks for three things when he publishes a book of this sort, but there is no mention of them in the Bill. There is no mention of fear. There is no mention of sex. There is no mention of the danger which a child might incur by imitating some of the actions of the characters represented. I am not saying that these things ought to be mentioned, but merely illustrating how very incomplete a Bill of this sort must be.
If we represent sexual lust in a picture we may be producing something which to some people is the very opposite of repulsive. It might be extraordinarily attractive, but it can be just as damaging, leading to such vices as auto-eroticism or sometimes to much worse things among the children themselves. They have not the mature judgment to balance the premature sexual excitement which the pictures induce. There is no mention about that aspect in the Bill, but it is one of the most horrible elements of the horror comic.
I turn to the Clause dealing with the right of the police, on the order of a justice of the peace, to enter the premises of printers, publishers, and booksellers. Candidly, that frightens me very much, and I do not think it is right. Under this Clause, the lady who sent me the protest against Pinocchio could go to a justice of the peace, even without a copy of the book—[Hon. Members: "No."] Yes—and tell the magistrate that in her opinion there was a prima facie case for the magistrate to send a policeman to my offices to confiscate the books. [Hon. Members: "No."] Yes, the words are in the Bill. She has to convince the J.P. of the Tightness of her plea. Then the magistrate sends an ordinary police constable—he does not go himself, and we should not expect him to—to my office.
He is at liberty to force his way in if I do not want him to get in, and to 1126 search my premises for copies of the offending document. If, in the course of his search, his eye happens to light upon other documents which did not take his fancy he can remove those, too. [Hon. Members: "No."] Yes. It is all in Clause 3. Great as is my respect for the police force, I would not submit the work of artists, and in some cases the textual matter which will be lying about my publishing office in the normal course of business, to the scrutiny and judgment of a policeman.
I want judgment to precede execution. If I propose to publish a book in which there is a libel, and the libelled person hears that the book is to be published, he can prevent the publication by obtaining an injunction against me. That is perfectly fair. That is the sort of thing I should like to see in the case of obscene or horrible books. I do not want to put such power into the hands of an ordinary justice of the peace and his emissaries, the policemen. I want a court case before my premises can be entered.
Furthermore, I should like some board or body, perhaps set up by publishers themselves, to which such works could be submitted for approval or disapproval before publication. That is exactly what happens in the case of films, so it cannot be very difficult. I should like to see in the Schedule to the Bill, or as an Order in Council published as a result of it. a much more exact definition of what we may or may not publish.
I want a permanent body of publishers or outsiders appointed to which any publisher can submit his manuscripts and illustrations before they even go to the printer and the block maker. In that way we shall avoid very much of the trouble foreseen by the Bill. AH but a tiny proportion of the publishers are wholly behind the public in their hatred of the horror comic. We wish to have a Measure such as this to support us so that children's minds are not poisoned by this trash.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacPherson (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) has spoken from a point of view which it was desirable we should hear. His last argument did not seem to me, speaking entirely as a layman, to be really convincing, but much 1127 of his earlier argument that publishers should be enabled to know precisely what their position is had weight in it.
The main arguments against the Bill seem to me to follow two general lines. One is the criticism, of which the hon. Gentleman's speech was a good and persuasive example, that the definition of what is criminal and wrong is not strict enough in the Bill. The other is that the Bill does not deal generally with the law of obscenity.
The Bill comes very near to giving a good and watertight definition, but I must stop at "very near." In reading the Bill and looking at Clause 1 carefully many times, I was not convinced that it would not be possible to apply the Bill in other cases to which we do not want it to be applied. I suggest to the Government that there is still need to tighten the definitions in Clause 1.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice) said a good deal about the phrase "wholly or mainly," which, as I read the Clause, applies toany book, magazine or other like work …As I followed my right hon. and learned Friend's argument, he applied it to "stories told in pictures." If he can apply it in that way, and an ordinary layman like myself applies it in quite a different way, it seems to me necessary to watch the language of Clause 1.
I am not convinced by the argument that intention should be introduced, with the exception of the point put by the hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster), who argued, I thought very sensibly, that intention ought to be made a possible line of defence. If it could be proved that the intention of the accused was not to corrupt, but to do something quite different from corrupting, the mind, I think that would be a reasonable defence.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
Does not my hon. Friend think it is already difficult enough to understand what "tend to corrupt" means, without having the additional difficulties of proving the intention of the tendency to corrupt?
§ Mr. MacPherson
I should not like to follow that argument in detail. The very 1128 simple and plain statement of the Home Secretary on this matter during the debate seemed to me to be common sense.
I think that the introduction of the idea of intention would be very difficult in actual practice, but I think it is perfectly possible that there should be added to the definition the phrase which was used in a judgment cited by the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), the famous Ulysses judgment, in which the judge talked about the "dominant effect" of the work. I do not think it would be impracticable to use that criterion here. I think that it would be much more practicable than to introduce the question of intention, and I think, equally fair, as it would judge the work as a whole. It would judge it in the way which a number of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite had in mind when they talked about the evidence of expert or impartial, or literary witnesses.
I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it would be reasonable to consider whether that phrase, or something similar to it in substance, cannot be introduced in Clause 1. I do not agree with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) about the Hicklin judgment. I think that is purely a debating point. The Hicklin judgment has been known for a long time to be restrictive and unsatisfactory, and my hon. Friend says that this Bill repeats some of its phraseology.
When we have a judgment like the Hicklin judgment on which the criticism is known to be, and understood to be, on certain points, and we repeat the phraseology of that judgment and restrict its application to various points which are relevant in this Clause, then it is irrelevant whether the words of the Hicklin judgment are used or not. We might just as well use the words of the Declaration of Independence or anything else. That seems to me to be a quite irrelevant point.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
I do not follow the argument of my hon. Friend. I understood him to accept the point that the Hicklin judgment in a wider sense was unsatisfactory in a great number of ways. If that is so, he must agree with me that it is undesirable to apply its essence to a new field.
§ Mr. MacPherson
That is not exactly the argument which my hon. Friend put. I would certainly agree with him if he had put it in that way. It is, of course, undesirable to apply its essence to a new Bill. What he said was that its phraseology was used, but its phraseology is used here with so much hedging around that the essence of that judgment is not contained in this Bill.
I conclude on the question of definition by suggesting that, even though I support the Bill, I am not quite satisfied that the critics of the definition have not something in their favour. We do not want to see this Measure applied in the future to classes of publication other than the ones with which we are now dealing, and I do not feel completely satisfied that it cannot be so applied. I would, therefore, join with those hon. Members who have asked the right hon. and learned Gentleman to look again at the definition.
The other general line of criticism has been on the score that the Bill does not deal with the law of obscenity in general; that it deals only with one particular part of it. That is not a matter about which we need seriously worry. This is definitely, openly and specifically an ad hoc Bill. It is a piece of what someone once called "ad hockery," and there is no objection in principle to "ad hockery."
There is no reason why we should not deal with one particular corner of the wider general field. In fact, at the moment, there is a very strong reason why we should pick out this particular section of the field, and do what we can about it. While one can sympathise with the desire of lawyers, of publishers, and of intellectuals, or of almost anyone, in fact, to have a properly worked out, complete blueprint of the law of obscenity, there has, on the other hand, to be considered not simply those people who would like to see that done, but the people at the other end who have to do the job—that is to say, us.
It has always been a habit of this House never to have been afraid of tackling a thing empirically! We have always said that it does not matter tremendously whether we are covering the full ground and having a complete blue print of everything. It may be a good thing to deal specifically with something that is 1130 troublesome at the moment and in particular places. That, I think, is all the justification which is needed for the ad hoc nature of this Bill.
It is always easy, of course, to argue against something because it does not do something else. One is familiar with the Communist heckler at the back of the hall, who, after one has made a convincing and persuasive speech on the subject, say, of transport, gets up and says, "The speaker has spoken for half-an-hour and never once mentioned Chiang Kai-shek." There is a similarity between the two types of argument.
It is easy to come along and say, "I object to this Bill because it does not do something which I should like it to do." That is quite a different thing from saying that what it actually does is wrong. While, therefore, I have some sympathy with what seems to me to be the first line of criticism of this Bill, namely, that the definition needs tightening, I have very little sympathy with the other line of criticism, that we should not take this action unless we are prepared to legislate over the whole field. I agree that legislation over the whole field is desirable, but I do not think that that should hold up this Bill.
I have one or two matters to raise rather more briefly. An ordinary ignorant layman like myself did not understand the legal effect of the use in Clause 4 of the word "prohibited." It was helpful to have it explained by the Home Secretary; but will the Lord Advocate, when replying, let us know whether the Bill will prohibit the importation and sale of these publications to men of other Forces? There are men of the United States Forces stationed here, and in the course of the general discussion of this question over the last few months there have been a certain number of arguments connected with them. It would be helpful to know the position there.
I should also like to ask the Lord Advocate—we from North of the Border are very glad to find that he is to reply for the Government tonight—the legal position in Scotland. The law there is quite different from that of England. I understand that the most important relevant Statute is the Burgh Police Act, 1892, but I am told that there may be other local Acts. To know that is just about enough to frighten a layman from 1131 any further research. Perhaps the Lord Advocate would make the position clear.
I strongly agree with those critics of the Bill who said that prosecutions should be guided through one channel—the Director of Public Prosecutions. In Scotland there is no Director of Public Prosecutions. If such an Amendment was added to the Bill what would happen in Scotland? It would be desirable to apply the principle in Scotland. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will explain what would be involved by such a change.
This is legislation on a particularly difficult subject. We are in the very serious dilemma of, on the one hand trying to prohibit what most people would agree to be an evil, and, on the other, trying to avoid those restrictions upon ordinary freedom as to matters of the mind, self-expression, and so on, which can be so easily imposed by this kind of legislation. I think that the Government have done a reasonably good job in their attempt to find a solution, but I do think that with regard to satisfying publishers and others as to just how the law will apply there is need for a little further thought.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
I have listened carefully to the debate, and a number of interesting and very valuable comments have undoubtedly been made in the course of it which will need consideration at a later stage. I am concerned primarily today with preventing the further publication and dissemination of these horror comics. So that there may be no doubt about my feelings towards the Bill, I want now to thank the Home Secretary both for bringing it forward and for bringing it before us today for Second Reading.
It has been said that we might have waited for legislation of a broader nature; legislation which would deal with a whole number of harmful types of publications which should be prohibited. As my right hon. and gallant Friend has said, the consideration of those broader issues may well take some time and I—and I think others—am not prepared to wait that time. Even though the Bill is only part of a much larger problem I would rather have it before us today than have to wait. It is possible that when 1132 that larger problem is dealt with by broader legislation we may wish to incorporate into it what is in this Bill.
In this day, in an enlightened country, it is incredible that it should be necessary to have to consider such legislation at all, or that such comics should even exist. That they do exist, and have exerted, and can exert, considerable harm upon our children and young persons, there can be no doubt. I hope that the hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) will not mind my disagreeing with him in one particular. He cast doubt upon the effect which such publications might have upon the minds of children and young persons. I have no doubt about their deleterious effect, and even if I had some doubt I should not like to take such a risk.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
I did not, of course, assert that they did not affect the mind. I said that this was a field in which we knew very little and that it was necessary to move with caution. I am, of course, interested to hear the point of view of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole), but I should be a good deal more convinced rather than interested if, instead of asserting, he could bring forward some evidence to support what he says.
§ Mr. Cole
The hon. Member is very kind. I did not say that he asserted but that he cast some doubt. It is very difficult to prove that the commission of some crime by a juvenile delinquent is caused by his having read a particular comic the previous week.
It has been said that the influence of the home and parents should preserve children from harm. I have three children, but I should not be prepared to take the risk of saying, "Let them have these comics. I know that they are so well brought up that such publications will have no effect upon them." In that respect I refer to the hon. Member who said that he felt that children should be allowed far more ability to be robust on this matter. Did he really think—and I am sorry that he is not in his place—that a child up to 13 or 14 years of age has the necessary maturity or experience to form judgments of right or wrong, and what is or is not to be done?
It is the duty of parents, of teachers, and of all those in the capacity of guardians, to guide children until they 1133 are of an age when they are capable of forming their own judgment. We do not find a person under 18 years of age responsible for a capital crime in that if such a person commits murder he is not executed. How then can we regard a child up to 18 as being in full possession of judgment faculties?
It is astonishing that these publications should be called "comics." It is an amazing colloquialism; they are neither comical nor funny. It might be as well to find a better term which would more accurately describe them. One particularly insidious point about these comics—and one which I believe is borne in mind by those publishing them—is that they are in pictures. They do not require even the effort of reading. In other words, the maximum results of emotion are obtained with the minimum effort. The House should be wary of such things which do not require even the effort of reading.
Much reference has been made to intention. We are in danger of exaggerating that point in the matter. Since printing was first established, there have probably been very few people who have ever deliberately published a book designed explicitly to corrupt some particular person or class of persons. If we tried to prove that, we should, in many cases, be following a very difficult path. I prefer the definition which my right hon. and gallant Friend gave—that the reasonable results of a man's action and what flows from the action might be regarded as the intention. I think that is a much better way in which to regard the question of intention.
Other hon. Members have referred to what might be the effect of the Bill in a few years' time. One hon. Member suggested that we ought to put a time limit on it. I am entirely out of sympathy with that point of view. If, in five or 10 or 25 years' time, there should be any kind of publication as harmful and as deleterious as we consider these comics to be today, then, be it now or be it in 25 years' time, such publications should be prohibited. I see no reason why we should have a different standard of values in five years' time. Indeed, for all we know, we may much need a prohibition of this kind in five or 10 years' time, and we may be doing good service in that respect by passing the Bill.
1134 Another point I wish to raise is one which I will not press in detail, because I appreciate that it is a Committee point, but to which I hope the Home Secretary will give his kind consideration. I have in mind the fact that we are today starting legislation in this matter, and we have, therefore, to be careful that the legislation is as complete and comprehensive as we can make it. In other words, in some ways we are more vulnerable because we are commencing legislation than we should be if we did not pass legislation on the subject. If we leave a gap in the Bill, we are inviting clever people to drive a horse and cart through it, and to carry on with certain publications.
§ Mr. Cole
I draw my right hon. and gallant Friend's attention to a point which has been touched on many times, but not in this connection. In the definition in Clause 1 we read the words, on line 6, "wholly or mainly." I am not quite clear about what effect flows from "wholly or mainly." What happens, for instance, if a clever publisher, making the money which can be made from the publication of these comics, decides to fill 40 pages of a magazine, 15 of them with exactly the same type of material as that which we have now, and 25 of them with some other kind of material—simple material, which he knows the buyer will not read?
The magazine will still sell. We all know that many a publication is bought by some people because some portion is attractive to them, while the remainder of the publication is ignored. To have 15 pages out of a total of 40 pages would not be considered to come within "wholly or mainly" and therefore would not come within the requirements of the Bill. The publisher, the distributor, and anyone else involved, would be outside the letter of the law because the case did not fall within the words "wholly or mainly."
The next portion of the definition is in line 12—in such a way that the work as a whole …The intention of that is not at all clear. I am well aware of, and am in sympathy with, my right hon. and gallant Friend's desire not to frame the Bill in such a way as to leave no freedom and to restrict 1135 every kind of legitimate publication. But the phrase in line 12 is,in such a way that the work as a whole would tend to corrupt a child or young person …Why should we look only at the "work as a whole" in considering its tendency to corrupt?
Consider the example which I quoted. Is it not possible for a child to be equally corrupted by 15 pages out of 40 as by 15 out of 15, as is the case at present? The subtlety escapes me. I well believe that if someone had sufficient resource he could publish the same comics as those which we have at present, provided that he doubled their size and filled the remainder with innocuous material in order to cover the requirements of the Bill.
I shall not press the point further except to make the suggestion that for the wordswhich consists wholly or mainly of stories,I would substitute, quite simply—the simpler the better—the words "which includes stories told in pictures." I would emphasise the word "includes."
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)
The hon. Gentleman is proposing a much wider definition than is given in the Bill. I understand his motives, but would he tell me whether he is entirely satisfied that the kind of wider definition which he proposes would not bring within its ambit perfectly bona fide children's periodicals of a robust nature but which are publications with a very long tradition in this country?
§ Mr. Cole
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. That point had occurred to me, and I gave it much thought because I would not wish to do that.
I have some knowledge of children's publications, having three children. But let me direct the hon. Gentleman's attention to page 1, line 12, of the Bill—that the work as a whole would tend to corrupt.I believe that no hon. Member would wish any publication to be in his house at any time if even a small part of it tended to corrupt the mind of the children. I think line 12 answers the hon. Gentleman.
1136 I suggest, for consideration in Committee, in page 1, line 6, the phrase, "which includes stories told in pictures." In line 12, instead of,in such a way that the work as a whole,I suggest merely, "in such a way that the stories would tend to corrupt." Here I emphasise the word "stories." Another virtue I could claim is that that would reduce the number of words in the Bill.
I want to conclude on a matter regarding parents and teachers. There are those people who say that parents and teachers have the entire responsibility for all these matters, that nobody else should interfere, that if parents and teachers do not do the job it is just too bad, and that if the children suffer as a consequence, we must accept it. There is another school of thought which says that, while parents and teachers have responsibility, the State must all the time watch the interests of the children and leave the minimum amount of responsibility to teachers and parents.
In my opinion, the Bill has the best of all possible worlds. I believe that it gives assistance to parents and teachers, who have a responsibility in these matters. I also believe that parents and teachers have a pretty difficult job—the larger the family the more difficult it is—in carrying out their responsibilities as they would wish, and that this Bill and similar legislation will help them a great deal in their duties. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading and that, with any necessary Amendments made at later stages, the Bill will pass into law and do its work.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
It is evident from the debate so far that some hon. Members have strong views in support of the Bill and others have just as strong views against it. This subject is causing concern, not only in this country, but, I understand, in many other lands. Friends of mine have from time to time sent me a literary magazine published in Australia, and in the news notes of one of these magazines I find that in Queensland, a State in Australia, the Literature Board of Review has already banned a number of comics featuring war, crime, and sexy-illustrated stories. In another edition of that magazine, I find the information that the Police 1137 Offences (Obscene Publications) Act, 1954, is now on the Statute Book of Victoria.
A great many fears have been expressed today that if we pass the Bill we shall be doing something very dreadful against the freedom of certain people in this country. We have to examine that contention very carefully indeed because it is of the greatest importance that we in this House should do everything we can to be zealous for the freedom of the individual in this country. I make that point at the beginning of my speech because I am in full support of the Bill.
I want to read a little from a publication because reference has been made to pictures by Hogarth, references have been made by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) to volumes he had to read when he was a student, and references have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) as to what might have happened if in the past we had had such legislation as is proposed today. There is a very interesting statement in this publication which deals with some of the points made today.
It begins by quoting a statement made by J. B. Priestley in the "New Statesman and Nation," in July last year. He said:Nine youngsters out of ten will sooner or later discover sex for themselves, even if their favourite hero is not always being voluptuously entangled.The writer of the article, who had been dealing with horror comics, went on to say:But this cruel violence is something else. It is by no means an essential part of us. No doubt there is in us the germ of it, a spark of savagery, especially in youth. One of the aims of civilisation is to smother that spark,—he went on to say—to provide an environment in which that germ cannot flourish and multiply. But here in this popular fiction the whole civilised trend is being carefully reversed. It is more than a question of manners. There is much of our early fiction—in Fielding and Smollett for example—a lot of rough and tumble, knock-about brutality, as much a reflection of its time as Hogarth's pictures were. But this new violence, with its sadistic overtones, is quite different. It is not simply coarse, brutal from a want of refinement and nerves, but genuinely corrupt, fundamentally unhealthy and evil.I think that statement from this magazine on literature sums up very well the feelings of those on both sides of the House today who support the Bill.
1138 A great deal has been said of the responsibility of parents and teachers. I do not think we can stress their responsibility sufficiently, even in a debate of this kind. But no matter how responsible parents or teachers are, if this literature is on sale, children will get it. They will get it without the knowledge of their parents and teachers. Although I believe in the responsibility of parents and teachers, I feel that if, as Members of Parliament, we find there is something which is going to attack the very best for which we believe civilisation should stand, we have a right to try to ensure that it shall not continue.
When the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South was dealing with the point about responsibility of parents, an hon. Member intervened, and the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South said he could scarcely think of any orphan who did not have someone who was responsible for him. I can think of some children who are not orphans but whose parents do not exercise the responsibility which they ought to exercise in this field. As Members of Parliament, we ought to be very careful and just as zealous in working for the good of those children as we are in safeguarding the freedoms in which we believe so much.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) that it is not only young children who are affected by horror comics and that type of publication. I have heard from friends in the Forces that the main reading matter of many young Service men is this type of publication, which can do so much harm. We have to protect the children both of responsible and irresponsible parents.
We also have to protect those who sometimes are mentally retarded and on whom this type of literature can have a much more evil effect than on the more highly intelligent young people, adolescents, and Service boys. Because of that, and because of my experience as a teacher, I feel we must not only take a negative attitude but from this House we must send out a message to parents, teachers, and publishers that they have a duty to provide something which will take the place of this shocking literature which we oppose.
Although I am not a parent, I have nephews and nieces in whom I am most 1139 interested. They have most responsible parents, who not only see that they have books to read which will interest them, but also that they have many interests as well as reading. Their time is very fully occupied on what one might call good pursuits. That does not mean that the children are kept away from the rough and tumble of life. The children about whom I am speaking have a very great deal of freedom, but it is freedom that is watched carefully by their parents, and does not lead to licence of any kind.
The same sense of responsibility applies to teachers. I know that at present they are overburdened by huge classes. One of my nephews, who is six years of age, has, from the time he was five, been in a class of 50 children. It is very difficult for any teacher teaching a class of that size to attempt to give the children all the guidance in this matter that she could give if she had a much smaller number of children to teach. Although I support this negative Bill, I say to the Scottish Office, the Home Department, and the Ministry of Education, that if they really want the very best for our children they must look at the question of the size of classes.
I know that many publishers have been attempting to do very good work indeed in the provision of more suitable reading matter for young people, but I do not think that we or they have gone sufficiently far in our attempts. I hope that publishers will now seize the opportunity which this negative Bill gives to them, when it abolishes the horrible type of literature, to put on the market in its place literature that will appeal to young people.
It is not the literature of soft stories and the like for which I am asking. Boys especially want adventure, and we should see that if they want it they get it in a clean way and not as something that is besmirched in the manner in which it is in the publications that we are trying to get rid of.
During the Committee stage, various points may well need to be made, and Amendments may be necessary and, I hope, in some instances will be accepted. The main purpose of the Bill, however, is a good one. It will give protection to our children so that they can develop spiritually, mentally, and physically as all decent civilised people would like them 1140 to develop. It is for that purpose that I support the Bill.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel H. M. Hyde (Belfast, North)
I have listened with great interest and attention to the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison). As she herself indicated, she is particularly well qualified by virtue of her knowledge of education and of the teaching profession to appreciate and understand the needs of children in regard to literary matter. I most wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Lady that the Bill in general is necessary for the protection of the children. I would, however, approach the subject in a rather different manner, because there are grounds for one or two criticisms of the Bill.
A number of the speeches to which we have listened have concentrated on the criticism that the law of obscene libel should be altered so as to include the so-called horror comics. That view was put forward eloquently by the hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) and it was put forward with some effect by the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), and it is a view with which I have some sympathy.
Reference was made to the committee sponsored by the Society of Authors and presided over by Sir Alan Herbert which produced a draft Bill for the reform of the law of obscene libel. I regret that that draft Bill was not used and brought forward to incorporate the purposes of the present Bill. But be that as it may, we must be content with what we have got, and although I regard the Bill as to some extent a patchwork way of dealing with the whole problem, nevertheless it pinpoints an obvious evil which should be remedied.
I do not think it would be wrong to say that the Bill is due to the arousing of the public conscience. It is due to some extent to a public agitation about the subject. I agree with one of my hon. Friends who suggested that the term "horror comics" is perhaps a misnomer. I have taken the opportunity of looking at some of them, and to my mind, anyhow, there is not very much that is comic about any of them.
The subject was raised as long ago as an Adjournment debate on 1st August, 1952, when these publications were referred to as "American style comics." 1141 That is not, perhaps, a satisfactory definition, but the fact remains that these publications were first introduced to this country by American troops during the last war and the majority have originated in the United States of America. Today, about 100,000 copies of these objectionable magazines are printed each month in America depicting every form of sadism, violence, horror and crime. Hon. Members will have seen the selections from these publications which were on view to the public towards the end of last year at the headquarters of the National Union of Teachers in London.
When I went to look at them, they made a most disturbing impression on my mind, particularly as those examples had been sent in by teachers who had discovered their children reading them. There were half naked girls tied to chairs and being threatened with burning pokers, and eyes being gouged out by ghouls and werewolves. There was "the incredible story of a man who was born five years after his mother died" and, "other chilling, weird, spine-tingling" themes. These are random examples of this literary fare.
Typical titles were "The Vault of Horror," to which the right hon. and learned Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice) has already referred, "Tales from the Crypt," "The Corpse Lived" and "Skeleton Hand." Besides violence, there was marked emphasis on the idea of putrefaction and decay. I took the opportunity of writing down a descriptive passage which accompanied the horrible drawings of a shocking story entitled "Born in the Grave":Then, one night in the damp heat a strange activity takes place at the lonely grave. Dirt is flying! The mound is moving! A foul stench pervades the air. Loud groans break the silence. Voices can be heard. A deep-throated chuckle and then the cry of an infant.In an adjacent crime series, I noticed that there were frequent beatings, killings and other forms of torture depicted in gruesome detail. It is true that in many of these the gangster usually gets liquidated in the end, but not so far as I could judge because he is wicked, but because he is not a good enough gangster. In one so-called comic magazine, for instance, there were 137 separate pictures of successful crimes as against nine of retribution and justice.
1142 "The Search"—this is the title of one of them—opened with a picture of a policeman being shot in the guts, and it closed with one of the criminals being accidentally boiled alive in a water tank. The cover of that magazine depicted a successful prison escape. In another called "Thrill-crazed Killer," the scene on the jacket showed an enormous blonde standing over a man whom she had just felled with a blow. He remarks, no doubt with good reason, "Phew! I feel like I been run over by a truck," to which the Amazon replies, "You haven't been yet. But if you want to keep yourself from being put through a meat grinder, you had better pony up all the dough!"
What is to be done about this revolting mass of literature? The Bill attempts to solve the problem. I do not think anyone in the House would not wish to see this type of literature suppressed because of its character.
However, what has been concerning me is that, in our desire to achieve that object, we do not attach other forms of literature to this prohibition and so bring them unfairly into the context of the Measure. Though I agree that the object of the Bill is very commendable in itself, I have some doubts as to whether the Bill is altogether satisfactory in its present form. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to the definition in Clause 1, and I am somewhat concerned that it may be rather too widely drawn. It seems to me that, on its present construction, it could be construed to cover things like well-known collections of nursery rhymes if they are pictorially presented.
We have already heard references to Hogarth's pictures. Another work which, I think, would be covered by Clause 1 is the collection of Beardsley's illustrations to Oscar Wilde's "Salome." Beardsley drew between 30 and 40 pictures to illustrate that work. Only a little more than half were used by the original publishers. After the publication of the work Beardsley got another publisher to produce all the illustrations, simply with letterpress at the bottom describing each picture. If one follows them from No. 1 to—I think it is—35, one can get the whole story of "Salome" in pictorial form, but those pictures certainly depict acts of violence, of cruelty, if not incidents of a rather horrible nature. This work can be readily procured today. The question is whether that is a work of art. 1143 Those pictures are, of course, most skilfully drawn, but they may fall within the definition of Clause 1.
"The Times" in its leading article this morning went so far as to say that the Bill might be used to cover a nursery rhyme like "Three Blind Mice." It said:There is a body of well intentioned people genuinely convinced that 'Three Blind Mice' and similar favourites are so gruesome that they do serious damage to the infant mind. To enact a Bill like this would be to tempt enthusiasts to misuse it. Laws live on long after their original intention has become unnecessary or forgotten, but they are sometimes then used as convenient instruments for quite different purposes."The Times" might have given the example, but it did not, of the obvious case that has already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Stechford, the Obscene Publications Act, 1857, Lord Campbell's Act, under which many prosecutions for the possession of allegedly obscene material have taken place. Yet Lord Campbell himself, when he spoke about the Measure in another place, made it very clear that it was intended—to apply exclusively to works written for the single purpose of corrupting the morals of youth.Of course, that Act has been used for much wider purposes, and what Lord Campbell said has not prevented its implementation for those wider purposes.
In other parts of the Commonwealth legislation has already been introduced to deal with this subject, for instance, in Canada. When this problem was discussed in the debate of 1st August, 1952, the Joint Under-Secretary of State, from whom, I hope, we shall hear later in this debate, had this to say about it. I quote his words because they have put me in somewhat of a quandary. This is what he said:It is true, of course, that attempts have been made in other countries … to deal with this matter by statute. In particular, there is a Canadian statute, which bans'Any magazine, periodical or book which exclusively or substantially comprises matter depicting pictorially the commission of crime, real or fictitious.'Presumably, that is the best definition that the Canadian Legislature has been able to devise to deal with this subject. I think it will be immediately obvious to hon. Members that, if there was such an Act on the Statute Book here, it would be quite inapplicable to 1144 deal with what we are now considering. If I remember rightly,'Tom, Tom, the Piper's son,Stole a pig and away he ran,'and any child's book which had a picture of Tom and the pig would, by statute, be obscene if we tried to implement such an Act here.Personally I should be very distressed to know that a book of nursery rhymes depicting Tom committing the offence of the larceny of one pig could form the subject of proceedings under Clause 1, which specifically relates to magazines and books pictorially depicting the commission of crimes. On the construction of the Clause, as I understand it, it seems that it could. If it cannot, I should very much like to hear from my hon. Friend, if, as I hope, he speaks later in the debate, what the explanation is.
We have heard also today the criticism that the Bill constitutes a threat to the liberty of publishers and printers and retailers. There is some substance in the fear, in spite of the fact that the Home Secretary has gone some way, in his opening speech, to allay it. We cannot get away from the fact, which the hon. Member for Stechford brought out very strongly, that the Bill proposes to enshrine, though in a somewhat restricted content, the test of obscenity in literature which was laid down by Lord Chief Justice Cockburn in 1868; in other words, the "tendency to corrupt" principle, which, to my mind, is far too rigid and speculative a test because it completely disregards the state of mind of the accused.
That brings us back to the conception of intent. Should not the state of mind of the accused person be considered? Should the question of the degree of recklessness which he exercised in dealing with the matter not be a necessary ingredient in the offence? Personally I think it should. I think, too, that it would be a retrograde step to create a new offence, and make it one, as the Bill in its present form does, of absolute liability. We must guard against the danger of a censorship being set up in effect.
Again I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary will forgive me if I quote from his speech of 1st August, 1952. He said:The real essence of the film censorship is the ultimate power to forbid children or others to go into a cinema. It is quite easy 1145 to forbid a person to go into a building, whether it be a cinema or a public-house, but it is entirely different to forbid the sale of particular articles. I think that hon. Members will see on reflection that if one once starts to forbid the sale of particular articles as classified, one would at once have to have something like a licensing system for news-vendors and bookshops which would mean being two-thirds of the way on the road towards a general censorship of literature."—[Official Report, 1st August, 1952; Vol. 504, c. 2035–6.]I should like to know if—
§ Mrs. Alice Cullen (Glasgow, Gorbals)
On a point of order. I wonder if the hon. and gallant Member is reading a horror comic to us.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. and gallant Member for Belfast, North (Lieut.-Colonel Hyde) has read a good deal to us, but, of course, it is in order to read excerpts from books and even to consult one's notes from time to time.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hyde
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was not attempting to read a horror comic, though I gave an example from one earlier in my speech. My last quotation was not designed to fall within that category.
I was about to ask how my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary reconciles that statement with Clause 2 of the Bill, which forbids the sale of particular articles as classified and lays down specific penalties for these new offences.
There are only two other matters which I would like to mention. First, we have heard that there is a right for a defendant to go for trial before a jury, but that is not expressly laid down in the Bill. Would it not be desirable to make clear on the face of the Bill that a defendant has the right to choose between trial by a magistrate at a court of summary jurisdiction and trial before a jury.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
When he is charged at petty sessions, the clerk to the petty sessions will inform him that he has a right to be tried either by the court before which he is appearing or by the court of quarter sessions. He will certainly know that he has the right to go before a jury.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hyde
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I am very glad to hear that, but the point is not made clear in Clause 3.
1146 Secondly, we are told that the Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland, except in so far as Clause 4 by implication brings in the right of the Customs to seize objectionable articles which it is intended to import. It has been suggested that not only should the articles be seized but that the importer should be liable to penalties. If that is to be the case, the rather curious situation will arise in Northern Ireland of the importer becoming liable to penalty, whereas, assuming that the Northern Ireland Parliament does not pass similar legislation, anyone who exposes for sale or distributes the objectionable material will not be proceeded against.
Subject to these observations. I welcome the Bill in its main objectives. Although I may have something to say in Committee about its provisions, I am very glad indeed to see it brought forward tonight.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
As a result of the sins of the hon. and gallant Member for Belfast, North (Lieut.-Colonel Hyde) I stand as a vicarious sacrifice. I hope that my speech will not equal in length the speech to which we have just listened.
The Bill has received today a scrutiny which is usually reserved for the Committee stage. I should imagine that to some extent that betokens the interest which the Bill has aroused in the House. I should like to carry that scrutiny a stage further on my own behalf, merely for an introductory moment or two, by asking whether the Home Secretary, or whoever replies to the debate, will say something about Clause 2. That Clause threatens penalties to an individual who sells one of these magazines but exempts altogether the author or the artist.
It is an important point, because, it is possible for a person to sell a magazine without necessarily knowing its contents. We cannot assume that a person who owns a shop reads or goes through every publication that he sells, but under the Bill he will be charged and may be found to be the guilty person, whereas the artist and the author, who most certainly know what is being published or printed, are entirely exempted from the provisions of Clause 2.
1147 Clause 4 refers toThe importation of—(a) any work to which this Act applies; …The Home Secretary will remember that before the Bill was introduced a point was made with regard to American Forces in this country. I have in my possession copies of publications which were brought into this country by the American Forces. Are these to be regarded as having been imported? If they are so regarded, because in the terminological sense they are being imported, will they be banned under the provisions of the Bill?
The point is important. During the period before the introduction of the Bill, when we were putting Questions on the subject in the House, I was in touch with the British editor of "News-Week." He conducted an inquiry here about these periodicals from that American aspect. He came to the conclusion that a large proportion of those in circulation in Great Britain came into the country through the medium of the American Forces. Will they be covered by Clause 4? That is all I want to say on what might be called Committee points.
I want to direct attention to the fact that the Bill was introduced by the Home Secretary at the urgent desire of hon. Members on both sides of the House. The scope of the Bill, which has been widely criticised, is definitely limited to matters which the House, during the period before the Recess, claimed ought to be dealt with. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman will remember that many of us raised the question of horror comics. I put Questions myself, as did many of my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite, and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede).
I agree that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) raised the issue of obscenity. There was a little attempt to broaden the issue, but it can be claimed that the attitude of the House as expressed at Question time was that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman should do something about the horror comic, and do it as quickly as possible. He has done that. Because of that, and without in any way seeking to defend him, I would say that it has been a little ungracious to broaden the scope of discussion to matters with 1148 which the House more or less said that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman need not necessarily deal. He has met what was the general demand.
I want to consider the issue from a point of view which so far has not commended itself, or been presented, to the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) said that there had been a good deal of fear expressed on our side of the House that the Bill interfered with freedom. The Bill deals with children and, in my view, it is preserving the right of the child to grow up without having its mind deprived of the freedom that it ought to have—the freedom from pollution. That is an important consideration.
These periodicals, of which I have an ample number here, are not merely horror comics. They do not deal merely with the horror aspect of life; they deal with something much more fundamental. They make a more damaging attack than that, because the young child is not greatly influenced by this horror aspect. I think that it shakes it off very quickly. These periodicals pollute the mind of the child.
They divide human society into two classes. First, there are the whites. One need only look at them to see the ladies, glamourous and half naked, and the men with all the physical attributes of the finest specimens in humanity. These are the whites. Of course, one cannot talk of every publication, and I am discussing the periodicals as a whole. The evil people are invariably those who are coloured.
In other words, these magazines identify evil with colour—either the colour of the skin or the colour of an idea. They imprison the mind of the young. They act as propagandist journals to spread an idea that all the good things, all the virtues, physical and mental, belong to one colour in the human society, and all the evil things are mated with those who are coloured differently from the race to which we belong.
That is a wrong thing to do. It is propaganda influencing the mind of the young along lines which every one of us deplores, as one knows from speeches which are made regularly in this House calling for the development of the underdeveloped parts of the world. We want to raise the standards of these people. We do not want to train our young to look 1149 upon them as necessarily associated in any way with evil ideas.
But these magazines go a stage beyond that, because wherever we have evil they show that it has to be hunted down. The type of justice that is vindicated is not the type of justice for which this House stands. It is not the type of justice that we believe in. It is summary justice, executed on the spot and often of the most brutal and sadistic nature. That is the evil in these journals. In that way they imprison the tender growing minds of the young. I hope that the Bill will be received with complete approval from both sides of the House, because it seeks to free the mind of our youth from these evil influences.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) is no longer present. I told him when he spoke that if I was fortunate enough to be called I should deal with one of his comments. He said that it was difficult to say how the young mind reacted to the horror comic. I do not guarantee to quote his exact words, but I am not wrong when I say that that was the idea behind them—that we could not gauge the effects of the horror comic on the young mind. Generally that is true. We cannot say that because "this" has happened "that" will be the result. Nevertheless, one can give many examples. My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mrs. Cullen) mentioned one which, to some extent, promoted the earlier Questions on this subject.
Last September a school in the Gorbals division of Glasgow closed for the day. By some system of bush telegraph, no one knows how, and as the children poured out of school, the word went round like wildfire that there was a vampire in a nearby cemetery; that this vampire had iron teeth and had eaten two young children. With that prattle, there went talk of space ships and men from Mars, and all the time there was talk about a monster. The "monster" had gripped the minds of the children, and so they armed themselves with sticks and stones and anything they could obtain, because they were out on a great mission—to destroy evil, to destroy the monster.
That is always a good thing, so we are told, although in Scotland, we must remember, there are good monsters and 1150 bad monsters. In the north of Scotland we have a loch called Loch Ness. It is inhabited by a monster, and anybody who said anything bad against the Loch Ness monster would find himself in great danger——
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
I do not think that this Bill is directed against the Loch Ness monster.
§ Mr. Rankin
That is the very point I am making.
That is just what I am about to say, because our monster is a "verrey parfait gentil" creature indeed. She keeps out of the way all winter and only surfaces during the tourist season. She is a very thoughtful monster. Of course, the Loch Ness monster is a lady. We like her so much that we call her "Nessie" and no lady—not even the bearded lady—could ever be a really successful monster.
But we can see how the children from that school had their minds gripped by this idea, and how easily the idea spread and their impulses were directed to a particular end. The police found exceeding difficulty in controlling these children, which is an added reason why I hope that this Bill will receive unanimous support in the House, because its object is entirely worthy.
I believe that it is an attempt to free the minds of our children from evil influences. By this Bill we seek to keep their minds from being poisoned. Just as we would refuse to put poison on the breakfast table or the dinner table to be put into the bodies of our children, so I hope that tonight we shall refuse to instil poison into their minds.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
We would all agree with the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) that my right hon. and gallant Friend has been under considerable pressure about this matter. We would all agree also about the desirability of the objective, but it is still for this House to examine the method. I agree broadly with my right hon. and gallant Friend on the question of method. The object, of course is quite clear. It is to protect children from having their minds corrupted by certain pictorial publications, and we all agree with that.
Some say that this is a matter for the parents. But will not parents be roused more to a sense of their responsibility if 1151 horror comics are banned by law? I suggest that they will. It is a matter not only for the parents, but also for us, for we all recognise that children and young persons must be protected from certain influences and practices with which they will have to contend as adults without that protection.
My right hon. and gallant Friend used an analogy when he said that we have already recognised that children must be protected against making certain purchases. But I suggest that there is no proper analogy here with the purchase of cigarettes or alcohol and so forth. In this case the Bill makes the printing and publishing of horror comics, as well as the selling or hiring of them, an offence; whereas we do not make the production of cigarettes by the Imperial Tobacco Co. or any other organisation an offence. Nor do we make it an offence for the tobacconists to sell them, except to children. I have not heard of tobacconists who lend cigarettes.
The difficulty about this Bill is that it seeks to suppressany book, magazine or other like work which consists wholly or mainly of stories told in picturesand it goes on to define them. It seeks to suppress them all if they would corrupt a child or young person "in any other way whatsoever." I hope that my right hon. Friend will deal with these words "in any other way whatsoever" because it is in those words that I feel it to be the sense of the House that there is a certain amount of misgiving.
This Bill will not suppress certain things for children only, as in the case of cigarettes or alcohol; it will suppress them for everyone. Having said that, I would add that I am not sure that some of the fears and misgivings which have been expressed are not exaggerated. After all, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson), dealing with his own edition of "Pinocchio," made it clear that that was a story told in words; whereas the essence of this Bill is that it deals with stories told in pictures, and therefore there is a strong distinction and the line is drawn pretty clearly.
It may be found to be drawn too widely. I do not know, for example, what will 1152 be the fate of the girls of "St. Trinian's" under the provisions of this Bill. It may also be drawn so widely as to affect other publications, but if they are already well established and have humour which distinguishes them from the baleful aspects of the horror comics—as so many have said, the latter are not comics at all but pure horror—they will escape this Bill. I hope we may be assured that that is so.
I wonder if my right hon. and learned Friend will also deal with the definition contained in the Bill. There is a danger that much more may escape than is intended. It may be that, once the Bill becomes an Act, attempts may be made to evade the effects of it. As I read the Bill, if less than half of the space in a publication is devoted to stories in pictures, the publication escapes. Again, if all the stories told in pictures do not tend to corrupt, as I read the Bill, the publication escapes. It may be that the terms of the Bill are drawn too narrowly in that respect. That is a matter which we shall have to examine in Committee.
My main point is that it is quite impossible to foresee how the Bill will work in practice. It may be that horror comics are a passing phase, and that the Bill will achieve its object within a few years. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) that it would be wise to place in the Bill a time limit, so that it would come up for examination periodically in the House of Commons, and it would then be for the Government to justify its retention under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. I believe that to be a reasonable course, in view of the fact that we may be dealing with only a temporary and passing phase. We may also find that the Bill has quite a different effect to that which we expected.
There is also the danger that the Bill may be used later for purposes other than those for which it is intended. It is very difficult to foresee these things, and I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend will say that during the Committee stage he will at least be prepared to give consideration to some kind of Amendment which would limit the duration of the Bill. With that safeguard, I feel that the whole House ought to welcome the Bill and give it a unanimous Second Reading.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
I am sure that the House is gratified to see the Home Secretary back in his place. I hope that he did not retire earlier because he was disappointed with the reception which the Bill then seemed to be receiving. I am sure that he has discovered that a warm reception has since been given to it. In the main, the opposition has come from the fraternity of authors, and even they seem to stress most of all the fact that the Bill does not deal with something other than that with which it purports to deal, namely, the law of obscene publications. With great respect to this fraternity, that is entirely beside the point as a criticism of the Bill. I hope that it will receive a Second Reading; not that there are not some criticisms which should be made at a later stage.
About two or three months ago I travelled for a fairly long journey in a train from Norfolk with four very young airmen. I hope that nothing I am about to say will be interpreted as a criticism only of persons from another country, because these horror comics have been circulated among the people of more than one country, including our own. These four young airmen, all in their late teens as far as I could tell, had been brought up in a country where horror comics have an even wider circulation than here, and during the entire time taken in travelling from Norfolk to London these men were looking at each other, wide-eyed, as each in turn related the happenings recorded in the latest horror comic at which he had been looking. As far as I could tell only four subjects were touched upon, and these, with deadly monotony, kept coming out. They were killing, robbery, rape and some of the other more squalid forms of sexual intercourse. During the whole time from Norfolk to London these four otherwise splendid young men talked of nothing else. I thought then that if that was the end product of horror comics we certainly ought to try to do something about them.
Several hon. Members have very modestly disclaimed any capacity to connect the commission of delinquencies with the reading of horror comics. I am with them in that. How can we possibly connect the two things together with any certainty? But can anyone claim any good for the horror comics? In my sub- 1154 mission nothing good can be claimed for them. Some of us may have a suspicion—and in the absence of any good that is enough—that there is a connection between the reading of horror comics and the delinquency which has unfortunately been prevalent since the war. It has not by any means been caused only by horror comics, but in the minds of some of us it seems quite possible that such reading can be connected with the delinquencies which have been indulged in.
I know that many people are alarmed at the possibility that recognised works of literature may come within the mesh of the Bill. Even "The Times" this morning was canvassing the possibility that Struwwelpeter might come within the mischief of the Bill. I hesitate to put my own opinion before that of the leading article writer of "The Times," but it seems extremely improbable that such a document, although containing a certain amount of violence, such as the cutting off of thumbs, could be said to come within the mischief of the Bill, because it is not wholly or mainly devoted to violence.
I have very little fear that genuine works of art will come within the scope of the Bill, though I was shaken a little by the instance given just now by the hon. and gallant Member for Belfast, North (Lieut.-Colonel Hyde), a distinguished author, in relation to the illustrations to a work by Oscar Wilde which had been taken out of their context and published simply as a work of illustrations without the original text. It may be that they told a story, mainly in pictures, which dealt with violence and therefore might be thought to come within the Bill. If that is the case I should not hesitate to take the risk of allowing the work to come within the mischief of the Bill, because I believe that we must do something to protect our children from some of the worst assaults in respect of which they are liable to be left entirely unprotected in the world at present.
We grown-ups should not be unduly pompous and didactic about what children think, because their minds work in such a different way from ours. I remember a child who was very backward in learning to speak and was nearly 10 years old before she uttered a word; but one day at the table she suddenly turned to her parents and said—and these were her 1155 first words, remember—"Let me see"—in the most cultivated voice—"the Brown's are separated, are they not?" That showed what had been going on in the mind of this young child, possibly for years, and it suddenly came out. I remember my own daughter coming back from riding in the country and announcing that our great friend, A.B., was lying dead in the road, and that somebody had covered him up with a blanket. She did not seem to be at all upset by the presence of death.
Yet, if we take away their feeling of security—even by removing their pet cat or canary—we may do children irreparable harm. We must be careful about the degree to which we lay down the law. I do not think that any of us has much doubt that children are subjected to all sorts of corrupting influences. It certainly seems that they will be even more when commercial television begins to operate. There are other corrupting influences besides horror comics, but because we do not deal with them all in this Bill—and many of them are already dealt with; films are subject to censorship—there is no reason for not giving this Bill a Second Reading.
In case there may be an infringement of liberty, or it should be found that when the Bill becomes an Act it operates in a way which was not intended, I support the plea that a time limit should be incorporated, permitting the Act to lapse unless the Government of the day does something about it, after, say ten years. It is not that with the children of five or 10 years hence—or of whatever period the life of the statute is allowed to be—will be any less in need of protection than our present children from such things as these horror comics, if they then exist. That is not the point at all. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) seemed to think that that was the point which was argued by those who wanted provision for the Bill to last for only a certain number of years to be incorporated in it.
The whole point is that fears have been expressed—for my part, I would say quite sincerely and genuinely—by many people who do not want the Bill, that it might not operate in the way in which most of us want it to operate. Very well, cannot 1156 we put something into the Bill in order to meet them which would prevent the Bill from becoming a permanency until it has been tried out? We want the Bill to be as good as it possibly can be, because a jerry built statute is no use at all. We do not want to have another Obscene Publications Act placed on the Statute Book, adding, so to speak, to the legislative slum that is already to be found there. We want some proper building done here, and, in my submission, this would be a much better Bill if it incorporated a provision such as the one I have just suggested, allowing for the lapse of the Bill if, after say 10 or five years, if the Government of the day does not come forward urging that the Act to be continued.
There is one other point. I hope the Government will consider very seriously that prosecutions under this Bill should not be undertaken unless by the Director of Public Prosecutions. It seems to me that, if we are to have uniformity in the practice under this Act, this is the best practical way of achieving it. But if there is to be prosecution by individuals, we shall have all sorts of different results from different cases. We may even have different results from different cases when the Director of Public Prosecutions is responsible for launching the prosecutions, but, at least, there will be much less chance of that. If these two, and perhaps some other provisions in order to make the wording more certain and easier to understand are inserted in this Bill during the Committee stage, it will be a good Bill.
I believe that it will be a good Bill, because I think it will protect our children from something from which we should all want to protect them. It is only a question of method—of what is the best way. I think the Government have made a courageous effort and have chosen the best way, and I support them in it.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)
We have had a lengthy debate on this Bill, possibly longer than the Government expected, but I think that is really because the Home Secretary has failed to anticipate the views of many people on both sides of the House about the difficulties of dealing with this admittedly complex matter.
1157 I entirely agree with those who say that the Bill deals with something different in many respects from the matters dealt with in the law dealing with obscenity, but the Home Secretary was very well aware that there has been great concern over that branch of the law, and I should have thought that he might have forestalled much of the criticism which has been expressed on both sides of the House today had he tried to meet points which cognate experience in other branches of the law have shown to be desirable.
It seems to me that in the Bill he has avoided dealing with all the difficulties brought to his attention in another connection except one, and that is precisely the wrong one to put into this Bill. He has put into this Bill the point about dealing with a work as a whole, which, of course, is a very important matter when dealing with books. One of the objections to the present law is that it is possible to take isolated passages and bring a case, whereas it is only proper to consider a work as a whole and not abstract one or two passages of a doubtful nature. When we are dealing with horror comics, precisely the opposite applies. There, it is so easy to find something utterly objectionable and yet separate in itself in a publication which may include a number of other stories whether in picture form or not.
Therefore, I must say that I think the Home Secretary has been less than skilful in the presentation of the Bill, and in dealing with the points which have been mentioned on both sides of the House. I think many of us feel very strongly that it is quite unsatisfactory to legislate in this difficult matter in any way that would prevent a lack of uniformity, so far as that can possibly be achieved, because it is most unfair to the publisher, the retailer, and the author—who, incidentally, does not appear to be mentioned at all in the Bill. I think it would have been better to have made it perfectly clear that the author is intended to be included amongst the others, because that again is one of the points which has been so difficult in the law dealing with obscene publications.
There are so many difficulties of detail that the House will certainly spend a good deal of time on them in Committee. I am not a lawyer, and I do not want to go over the question of intent again, but 1158 it is perfectly clear that, taking the Bill as it stands, various publications could be included if some officious person wanted to make trouble. "Struwwelpeter" has been mentioned, and I suggest that a fully illustrated edition of Hilaire Belloc's "Rhymes" might come within the definition of Clause 1, as well as a completely different sort of publication.
For example, I can think of a booklet published, I think, by the Kenya Government on Mau Mau atrocities, which would come precisely within the definition of a story told primarily in pictures—being stories portraying—which, if it happened to fall into the hands of a child or young person, might very well have a corrupting mental effect. This booklet showed pictures of mutilated cattle and human beings, and yet the book might have been—and, in fact, was—produced for a very proper purpose, which we fully recognise. I mention that instance, concerning pictures of Mau Mau, in order to show how careful one has to be in trying to draft a Bill of this sort, because one would always have to think of the possibility, under the procedure suggested in the Bill, of some mischievous or officious person trying to take action, when we could not necessarily rely on the good sense even of our magistrates in this matter.
- (a) the commission of crimes; or
- (b) acts of violence or cruelty; or
- (c) incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature;"
Having said that, I should like to express sympathy with the main object of the Bill. I am very glad that we have had public opinion aroused on this matter. I think we owe a great debt of gratitude to the National Union of Teachers, and I am also glad that we have got the Bill early enough to direct public attention to it.
Whatever one may think of the methods adopted in the Bill, we should prevent a strong vested economic interest growing up, which is one of the main difficulties in the United States. I have before me a copy of "The Bookseller," in the current number of which there are quotations from a book about to be published in this country but already published in the United States by a Dr. Werthman, in which he points out the tremendous economic forces which are by now interested in these publications 1159 in the United States. He gives some horrifying figures, from which I understand that the number of so-called comics published in the United States is round about 90 million a month, a far higher figure than that suggested by the hon. and gallant Member for Belfast, North (Lieut.-Colonel Hyde).
Dr. Werthman referred to the economic power of large industry, and in his researches into the matter he learned that the number of comic books was so enormous that the paper pulp interests are vitally interested in their mass production. He found that he was fighting "not windmills, but paper mills," and we certainly do not want anything of that kind to happen here. With the general intention of avoiding anything of that sort, we are in the completest sympathy. It is merely the machinery of the business that concerns those who are critical.
I wish we could have had a rather wider debate on this matter and a rather less legalistic one. Some of my hon. Friends have mentioned what one might call a more positive approach. I am sorry that the educational intervention from the Government Front Bench was confined to one sentence from the Minister of Education. While this matter must be dealt with from the legal point of view if we can manage to find a reasonable way of doing it, the main thing which troubles many of us is that people would not read these horrible productions if they had other and better interests. The Minister shakes his head. I grant at once that there is a very small minority of people who are, for some reason or other, perverted and who, whatever one did, would probably turn to something of this kind. The great majority of young people would not turn to these particular horrible productions if during their early years at home and at school they had found some other interest in life.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) mentioned the subject of classes in schools being too large. That is important. In large classes it is precisely the child who finds it most difficult to keep up who does not find it easy to read and to whom the genuine pleasures of reading are very often denied. That difficulty becomes much more serious as the children reach adolescence and early manhood.
1160 I had experience many years ago as a librarian in the United States, where I found that much more attention was given than is the case here to helping people to use libraries and the printed material there. Many people who have not had the advantages of a home in which books and the more serious periodicals are a matter of course find it very difficult to deal with the printed word. That is why they turn to these pictorial things, which are so much easier for them.
Here is a genuine problem of adult education as well as of the education of children which needs very considerable resources if it is to be dealt with properly, in libraries and among the young men in the Forces. I do not want to go too wide, so I will not pursue that subject, but we cannot seriously dismiss the matter of the horror comic without indicating that we are least aware that there are other problems of defects in education which we ought to tackle.
I hope that on some other occasion we may have a very much fuller statement from the Minister of Education. He mentioned today that he is asking his inspectors to look into the question of libraries in schools, but he did not say whether further financial provision would be made for this very necessary work. We ought to have further information on that point. In the current number of the "Schoolmaster" is a very interesting article on horror comics and the position of the schoolteacher in relation to them. The writer points out that the majority of primary schools have no funds for the setting up of libraries and that many of them struggle along on voluntary funds. That is one of the positive things which could be looked at. I remember a teacher in my constituency making the very same point and saying that one school of nearly 500 children had only £40 a year for library books and equipment, including rebinding. which is very expensive.
§ Mrs. White
I thought it was only right, when discussing a matter of great social import as well as legal interest, that we should be allowed to mention some of the positive points, particularly as the Minister of Education intervened 1161 on this very matter when you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, were not in the Chair. Unless we tackle the matter on the positive side whatever we may do in the restrictive legal sense is not likely to bring about the results which all of us wish to see.
Therefore, my welcome to the Bill is rather mixed. Many of us are sceptical as to how far the Bill will be effective, although we have full sympathy with its aims. I repeat that I wish the Home Secretary had found it possible to take into account many of the points to which his attention has been drawn, and that he had embodied them more successfully in the Bill.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)
Few of the hon. Members who have taken part in the debate have thrown any doubt on the potential danger of horror comics. The only question has been as to the machinery of the Bill for dealing with them. The Bill is a bold attempt to deal with this admitted evil.
Some who have spoken against the Bill, and notably the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell), seemed to make the point that small and irregular doses of poison injected into the youthful mind might not be particularly harmful and might result in the development of a stronger and more robust character. I remember when, some seven or eight years ago, we were discussing a Bill for providing milk free from the germs of tuberculosis, that the same argument was brought up. It was suggested that it might be good if children took tuberculous milk so that some sort of immunity could be developed. Fortunately, the House of Commons did not listen to any such nonsense.
My only excuse for intervening in the debate is that for the last six years I have been chairman of the management committee of a large remand home for boys, and that I have tried to understand what has been going on in their minds. As far as I can see, all children, and particularly delinquent children, love comics. They love comics because they are easy to understand without the trouble of reading, which many children find difficult. I did myself for many years when I was a child. What happens is that these children scan over their comics looking at the 1162 pictures first, and then go back and read the letterpress, if any.
I have asked a good many of these delinquent boys what sort of comics they like best. Almost invariably, they have said that they prefer the American horror comics. I would not put too much store on this because boys in remand homes are apt to say whatever they think will please, and because they are not a fair cross-section of the child population. They are, in many cases, children who are backward in their education, and to a large extent they are not children of the highest mental capacity. But all children like comics, and they like them because the child has a visual mind.
A doctor friend of mine who has two daughters asked them, when they had reached the age of discretion, what their reactions were when she had reproved them as children. They said that they never listened to a word she said, but they looked at her face, and if she seemed grieved they felt sorry. Children have visual minds. They pay much more attention to what they see than to what they hear.
I believe that children like these American comics, these horror comics, as they are called, for several reasons. First, they appeal to their primitive emotions of hate, revenge, and killing. Those are primitive emotions in all of us. Then they are attracted by the new world of imagination which these comics give them. Children are attracted to space ships and death-ray pistols, and they like playing with them, for the same reason. I think that another reason why children like these horror comics is that they are supposed to depict the doings of adults, which are to children, to some extent, a closed book.
I agree with this Bill, and I think that we should do all that we can to prevent horror comics reaching children. I agree with the Bill for three reasons. First, I am convinced that hero worship and imitation are tremendous factors in children. I could give innumerable examples of that. They project themselves into the scenes of which they see pictures.
A short time ago, a research was carried out in Glasgow with regard to delinquent children, and it was found that 44 per cent. of them had in their household or family people who had got into 1163 difficulty with the police. Other areas showed much the same, although perhaps not quite so high a proportion. I think that another objection to these horror comics is that they tend to blunt the finer feelings. They show that there is much brutality even when good overcomes evil.
I suggest that there is a third objection, which I do not think has been sufficiently stressed in the debate tonight. That is that these horror comics are terribly frightening to children. Children do not wear their hearts on their sleeves. One does not know what a child is thinking, but in young minds the pictures or incidents depicted often have a very profound effect. I remember that when I was a very small boy I was given a copy of "Pilgrim's Progress." I remember a picture in that copy until this day. It was a picture of Apollyon. I did not say anything to anyone about it, but I could not prevent myself from looking at it, and it frightened me very much. I do not think that this is good for children.
There are many terrible things in life which we are all bound to face sooner or later, and I feel that children ought not to face them too soon. I welcome the Bill, but I suggest that there will be difficulties as a result of American comics being sent to the troops over here, and being passed on to children.
American comics are not the only evils tending to corrupt children. I know what a strong factor the cinema is. When children in approved schools have been allowed to go home for a time they have come back to tell us that they have been to the cinema every night. It is the visual effect—it is the picture in the comic or in the cinema that has the strong effect on the child.
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman who is reply to the debate say a word about what is not included in the Bill? The matter of Struwwelpeter has been dealt with, but what about our old friends Punch and Judy? I have seen many books for little children, with very little letterpress but with pictures of the life of Punch and Judy, starting with their throwing the baby out of the window, the hangman, the crocodile, and so on. If this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, will Punch and Judy become taboo, or will it be excused because it might be called a classic?
1164 I should like to add my word of commendation about the Bill. It may have to be modified in certain ways in Committee, but it is a bold attempt to deal with an admitted evil.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)
I wish from the outset to give my unqualified support to the Bill, and to give it without any criticism at all. There has been far too much exaggeration of possibilities here and of possibilities there, but we want to get rid of this filth that is getting into the minds of young people, penetrating their thoughts, and producing a set of almost indecent adolescents.
One can make all sorts of exaggerations. One can talk of Edgar Allen Poe, or even of the Merchant of Venice cutting out part of the body with a knife, or about the Woerz Exhibition in Brussels, which, despite its horrors, is one of the great things of the world. One can exaggerate to the very end, but I want to see an end of this horrible and dirty business. The job of the Home Secretary is to get rid of the stuff. How he does it, or what he does in doing it, is his business, and it is up to him to look after it.
Throughout my life, and I am 68 years of age——
§ Mr. Follick
Quite a boy, compared with my right hon. Friend—there has always been some sort of horror literature. I remember the old blood-and-thunders, and the penny dreadfuls. I used to read them and lie awake all night. We have always had them. We have always had the "Weary Willies" and the "Tired Tims" which are good fun—but always in our penny dreadfuls and blood-and-thunders and our melodramas there was the victory of the hero and the damnation of the villain. One does not get that in these comics. There is no idealism in them.
I am even more afraid for the adolescent than for the children—for the slow, tardy-reading adolescent who finds reading a burden. That is our danger, because there we have the youth becoming a man while his only way of getting enjoyment out of reading is when he can see the pictures.
As hon. Members know, I have been a language teacher and have had a great language institution, the largest in 1165 Europe. We always taught languages by means of pictures—a picture with, below, it, an ascription. That was the way we taught the beginner—and the beginner might be as old as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). That connection between picturised reading attracted the mind and kept the mind on the subject. It is even more important with young people, especially those young boys and girls who find it very difficult to read. I will not mention my scheme for reformed spelling, although spelling has a great deal to do with the problem.
Those are the people we have to look after and to try to protect. For that reason, I repeat that the Bill has my unqualified support, with no criticism whatever. Anybody can criticise. We can always find reasons for not doing something. I was given a reason the other day for which my Decimal Currency Bill could not be considered. We can always find reasons for not taking action. But let us get on with the job, wipe out this dirty nonsense, and find something good for these people to read. It can be illustrated for them if they like; there can be plenty of good reading with good illustrations. It is up to our publishers to find something for our youth which is worth reading, and to get rid of this stuff which is rotting their very minds.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
I rise because there should be some clarification of the question which is disturbing the minds of some hon. Members about the legal aspect of this Bill, as linked up with the ordinary purposes of the Bill. I have still to learn that the laws of the country have been made for any purpose other than to assist the community to compel wrongdoers to return to certain straight paths.
Although it is highly desirable that the whole community should be helped by publicity to understand the horrible significance of this kind of so-called literature which is falling into the hands of children and adults nevertheless I am of opinion that unless and until a Bill of this nature becomes an Act, it will be impossible to stem the tide of that kind of publication. It is all very well to talk about the difficulties which confront the draftsmen. I want to tell the Home Secretary that I am glad that he has reacted to public opinion in this way. It indicates at least 1166 that he is making a definite attempt to deal with what is a terrible situation.
Reference has been made to the fact that large economic interests are involved, and, unless there were legislation, those economic interests would find ways and means to overcome any action which might be taken by the public to curb their activities which was not backed by some legal sanction. We have to face the fact that although it is difficult to cope with a situation of that kind without the possibility in some way or other of infringing upon the liberty of some innocent publisher, or the Press and so on, nevertheless those concerned will ultimately come to the conclusion that the Act will be a benefit rather than a disadvantage to them.
A very old Act contained a provision, which I believe is still operative, whereby the fiat of the Attorney-General has to be obtained before a prosecution may be instituted. It deals with a very similar subject to that which we are discussing—with the publication of obscenities and so on. The Home Secretary might possibly consider it advisable to see what has been the effect of that provision. I am not altogether sure that it is essential to have such a provision, nor that the Attorney-General would not under some circumstances refrain from taking proceedings when he ought to take them, but it is worth considering that matter.
The objection has been raised that magistrates may not be in a position to weigh up the exact significance of the powers that will lie in their hands if this Bill becomes law. I am not pessimistic about that. For many years I have seen magistrates of our country conducting their business. I do not say that they are by any means perfect, but they are very good, and, usually, a magistrates' clerk is available. And there certainly is public opinion in the locality which has a certain amount of influence upon the actions of magistrates if they tend to take wrong decisions. They know the district. I think it is wiser for the power to be placed in the hands of magistrates because this plague can be tested probably better by people living in a particular locality than it can be dealt with generally. The facts are known to parents, teachers and the community as a whole. The magistrates are not unaffected by information which comes to them in that way. In a case of this description local knowledge may be very good. 1167 Where the horror comic is having a really bad influence, it may have the effect of making magistrates impose heavier penalties, and that would be all to the good.
I am not happy at any time about the question of entry to a person's home or business with powers of search, to which the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) referred. It is a very serious matter. Warrants ought not to be issued except with the most careful scrutiny and with a large amount of real information being contained in the sworn evidence. On the other hand, I think that magistrates will exercise common sense in cases of that description. For example, they will not send officers into the business premises of reputable firms. They are not likely to send into such premises on flimsy evidence even if it is afforded under oath. But, of course, there is a difficulty which has to be very carefully watched.
One provision to which sufficient emphasis has not been given during the debate in Clause 4 of the Bill, which deals with the importation of these publications and is, in my opinion, one of the most vital parts of the Bill. The fact is that our community—and we can say it with considerable pride—is not the main factor in the production of these pernicious and sadistic documents.
According to the "Financial Times," 60 million comics of foreign origin were circulated in the United Kingdom in 1953, and an attempt was made to classify them into categories. According to the evidence of reliable people—the Authors' World Peace Appeal—approximately 20 per cent. of the publications were listed under the category of "no objection," 34 per cent. under "some objection," 33 per cent. under "objectionable" and 13 per cent. under "very objectionable." This last category, obviously, will not be allowed to be imported.
There may be difficulty in discerning what is objectionable but an error in the direction of preventing something which may not be objectionable from coming in is much better for us than an error which would allow objectionable muck to come into this country.
The figures are formidable. The publication of documents of this description to 1168 the extent that I have indicated is of considerable concern to the community. It must be obvious to everyone in the House that this is a serious matter and it has been getting progressively worse. Anyone who has got hold of one of these documents or who visited the N.U.T. exhibition must have been appalled at the kind of literature that was being spread among both children and adults. It is true that the Bill makes it necessary to prove that the nature of the offence is such as is likely to contaminate the minds of the young, but I think it would be logical to ensure that that which can be proved to be a destruction to the minds of the young should also be prevented from coming into the hands of adults who might pass them on.
In towns where these things have been published, reputable publishers and printers have been appalled at the company which they have been compelled to keep, even if it has been only one small or minor firm. Leicester, for example, has a remarkable and well deserved reputation for printing throughout the world. It is one of the finest printing centres in the country and takes great pride in the work that it turns out. It is true that only one firm came to the outskirts and contaminated the scene. Everybody in the town, I think, wants to wipe people like that out of the way completely. We do not want that kind of thing coming into our constituencies or into our country.
I wish the Home Secretary strength to his arm. I hope he takes notice of what has been said today with a view to strengthening the Bill and that he will not relax in his determination to see that a Bill of this nature shall come on to the Statute Book as speedily as possible.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)
At this stage of the debate I shall not keep the House more than two or three minutes, but I want to give support to the Bill in a very general sense. I commence by accepting the fact that something must be done about these appalling and wretched publications. No hon. Member who took the trouble to view in the Library the exhibition of these publications would hesitate to say that some action is due on the part of the Home Secretary and that he must introduce some Measure to get these publications out of the way.
1169 However, having said that, I want to speak as a magistrate who may be called upon to interpret the terms of the Measure. Clause 1, as it is drafted at the moment, is a magistrates' nightmare. It says first that the Bill applies to… any book, magazine or other like work which consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures …What is meant by "mainly"? Perhaps we may be told when the Government spokesman winds up the debate tonight. If there is a picture, for example, three inches by two inches, which is accompanied by a caption of 20 words occupying an inch by an inch and a half, is that "mainly" a story being told in picture form?
Secondly, the Clause says that a story to which the Clause applies is one that portrays… the commission of crimes; or acts of violence or cruelty; or incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature …Have magistrates, in hearing cases under the Measure, to stick to the crimes that we know in British law? Or may we allow our imaginations to run riot as to what we think are crimes? Questions of violence and cruelty have to be decided daily in the courts of this country. Cases of divorce and separation, even a caning by a headmaster in a school, may be regarded as cases of cruelty. I want to know whether magistrates, under the terms of the Bill, are expected to try the picture before trying the defendant.
Can we be told exactly what is a picture of "a repulsive or horrible" incident? As the House knows, I am a butcher. I envisage pictures coming before magistrates of incidents in a slaughterhouse. They would leave me unmoved, but I can think of a woman magistrate sitting next to me who would be completely horrified by pictures of that character being published for perusal by young people. They could easily make a colleague of mine sick, whereas they would not affect me in the slightest degree. That is the kind of thing that I am worried about, as it is affected by the present drafting of the Bill.
It is not many days ago that we were discussing in this House the Report of the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment. I particularly remember some of the words of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis). I quote him: 1170I have no doubt that a large part of the morbid interest in murder … comes from the drama of the situation in that a man is on trial for his life. … I believe that this morbid fascination is likely to be enough to push the small number of psychopathic individuals just over the border, and placing a dramatic aura around murder is just the way to make murder more common."—[Official Report, 10th February, 1955; Vol. 536, c. 2109–10.]Can we separate these two matters? Is the description of a horrible thing in words worse than the description of a horrible thing in pictures, or does it have less influence and less liability to tend to corrupt a young person?
I can only express the hope that in Committee we may find a better form of words for the Bill. If we fail to do that the only hope that I have is that the people who are responsible for these terrible publications will be scared off by this debate and by the fact that the Bill is on the Statute Book.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
We have had a very interesting debate in which a large number of people have taken part. The emphasis in the debate has changed from time to time in a way that is quite worthy of the most exciting cricket match. I am quite sure that after the game had been going for about one and a half hours the Home Secretary must have been hoping that there would be some good bowlers coming along later on, after my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) and my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) had been knocking sixes, at any rate in their own minds.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) said that I had participated in the Questions which were put to the Home Secretary and which led to the introduction of this Measure. I only ask that he should give attention to the judgment which was given by Mr. Justice Stable in a certain case. I like to see the right hon. and gallant Gentleman in trouble, but at any rate on this occasion I did not lure him to the debatable ground on which he has stepped.
I share the apprehensions which are in the minds of most people, while at the same time I do not regard these publications as worthy of other than suppression. I want to make that point clear, but I cannot get out of my mind that this House passed, in 1798, a Bill to deal with the administration of oaths to the mutineers 1171 at the Nore, and that the result of that Act was that in 1834 six Dorsetshire labourers were sent to transportation.
One has to be very careful, therefore, when one has before the House these Measures that make some indentation into personal liberty. One has to be quite sure that they cannot be used for other purposes than those intended. I welcome the suggestion which has been made by several hon. Members in the course of the debate that there should be a time limit in the Bill, a fairly long time limit of seven or 10 years, so that at the end of that time we can see what the effect has been and how the Measure has worked out.
At the moment, the Bill has achieved its purpose without getting on to the Statute Book because, as I understand it and as I have been informed by some people who have been watching this matter, publication has ceased. However, one publisher, at any rate, has intimated that if the Bill is not passed he will restart his operations. I hope, therefore, that after careful examination in Committee, the Bill will reach the Statute Book so that the moral reprobation of the House and of Parliament shall be given to the practice of publishing these awful documents.
I hope that all the points made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice) will be borne in mind when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman contemplates what he will have to do in Committee. I sincerely hope that a Bill that is so closely connected with the liberty of the subject and freedom of utterance will be taken on the Floor of the House, because constitutional Measures of this kind should not be relegated to Committee Rooms upstairs.
I was very gratified by the intervention of the Minister of Education, although I could have wished to have gone further than he did, because let us be quite certain that it is not enough to suppress these books unless we provide for the kind of child and young person who reads them something to take their place.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) produced a book in the House. We have had a good deal 1172 of advertising of constituencies and professions during the debate, which would never have been got over on the B.B.C. It was a very good-looking book and, after my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Follick) had instructed the hon. Gentleman, he was even able to pronounce the title of it correctly; a marvellous thing for a publisher. It appeared to me to be rather too expensive.
§ Mr. Ede
Therefore, as a remedy, if it is out of print, it will not be much use.
I hope that if it is republished a cheaper edition will be available. One must realise that these books are bought out of the pocket money of children who, even in these days, have not too much to lay out on this kind of thing.
One of the defects of our education system which has a bearing on this subject, is the fact that the allowances for books in schools have rarely been raised over those of pre-war in anything like proportion to the rise in the cost of books. If we are to have school libraries and class libraries with books of the kind that will appeal to these children, a great deal of expenditure will have to be incurred. That is not true only of the State schools. I am a governor of a boarding school, the fees of which are nearly £300 a year—I am not advertising—butat the last governors' meeting the headmaster reported to us that he was spending on books the same amount that he spent in 1938.
It is one of the facts we must face that a constructive effort to deal with the problem may mean some expenditure, certainly in State schools and probably in other schools, to enable us adequately to meet the problem. We all relish stories of adventure. I was brought up in a family with very strong Nonconformist traditions. The theatre was a thing forbidden. But we wanted adventure, and we obtained it through the dramatic reading of "Pilgrim's Progress."
I could read extracts from that book and even show illustrations from it which might bring a fully illustrated edition of "Pilgrim's Progress" dangerously near 1173 the point covered by this Bill. And when we remember that it was written by a gaol-bird while he was in jail for defying the requirements of Parliament about the way in which he should worship God, it shows how easy it is to construct a case that, on occasion, sounds very plausible and yet makes a considerable infliction of injustice almost imperative. Never let us forget either that Socrates was put to death for corrupting youth. I mention these things because I wish to emphasise the fears that librarians must naturally have in approaching a thing of this kind.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stetchford dealt at some length with a Bill which we are not now discussing. We have had two Bills before the House, and during Second Reading debates that state of affairs is not unusual. There is the Bill which we have before us and the Bill which some of us would like to have, and, of course, it is so easy to talk about the second rather than the first.
I do not blame the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who was faced with a barrage of Questions about this matter every time he came near the head of the list at Question time, for deciding that he would deal with this, and not the bigger, subject. I am quite sure that were he to bring in a Bill dealing with the bigger subject the Lord Privy Seal would find some difficulty in fitting it into the legislative programme of any one Session. While I think that the law requires attention in that respect, I shall not do more tonight than to mention the fact that it has been raised by some of my hon. Friends.
I welcome wholeheartedly the courageous speech made at the time when it was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas). I think that he expressed the moral feeling of practically everyone in the country on this matter. We have to protect young people and children. There was one hon. Member who had been a parent for a fortnight who told us to "get off the grass" when it came to interfering with the way in which parents looked after their children. The hon. Member is not now present in the Chamber—he is probably baby-watching. But the curse of the matter is that there are too many children in this country who need our protection against the sloth and indifference of their parents.
1174 We owe a duty to the rising generation. Our generation has placed enough burdens upon its shoulders, and we wish it to have the moral stamina to bear those burdens and to prove itself worthy of the heritage of liberty that our generation has preserved for it. We have, therefore, already taken steps under the Children Act—which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman administers—to deal with children who are in need of care and protection.
The best parents and the best teachers cannot always prevent the child from getting something that is offered for sale and which other children buy and talk about. Most of us have had secrets in our youth which we kept very sedulously from both parents and teachers—and we have sometimes been a little surprised to find, about 30 years afterwards, that they knew about them all the time. Probably everyone in the House had parents who were wise and understanding, but I hope that we shall not allow any false sentiment about the rights of parents or the duties of teachers to prevent this Parliament from putting its impress upon the discussion which has been going on.
I share the anxieties of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christ-church about the powers of search given by the Bill. That point will have to receive very careful consideration during the Committee stage. I do not go so far as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), who thought it almost beyond question that there are some publishers of such high repute that in no circumstances ought a search warrant to be applied for in respect for them.
§ Mr. Janner
I did not say that there were publishers of such high repute, but that I thought that when a search warrant was being applied for it might very well be that the magistrates, who knew the locality, would have that kind of thing in mind before venturing to issue a search warrant upon flimsy evidence. Those were the words I used.
§ Mr. Ede
I hope that no search warrant will be granted upon flimsy evidence at any time—but if the evidence is sufficient the action must begin and if, in the end, the accused is proved not to have been guilty of what was alleged, vindication will have been made in public.
1175 My difficulty is that many of the hon. Members who have taken part in the debate left as soon as they made their contributions and I must, therefore, through the Official Report, apologise to them for referring to them in their absence. The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Lieut.-Colonel Hyde) attacked somewhat vigorously the Joint Undersecretary of State for a speech which he made in 1952. I do not join in that attack. I think that this House itself, by the Questions which it directed to the Home Secretary, made it impossible for him to do other than go forward with a Bill to deal with this limited subject. If there were objections to the line that was indicated by the Questions, it would have been perfectly easy for hon. Members, by means of supplementary questions, to indicate that they were not in favour of any action being taken.
I am not quite sure what is the answer to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) as to what is to happen when a publication of the kind which we have in mind has one grossly offensive picture, which may do all the moral damage that we deplore, while the rest of the pictures in the publication are quite unexceptionable. I would have thought myself that the line of argument adopted by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East, was quite unanswerable in those circumstances, and that that kind of publication differs very much from the other publications with which she contrasted it.
My hon. Friend was sceptical about the effect of the Bill, and I am bound to say that what has happened already should make us be quite certain that, as far as this limited objective is concerned, it will be effective. What we have to be careful about is that it is not so effective that it catches other things.
I would commend to the House the very wise speech, as I thought, of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings), and his observations about the way in which children have visual minds. I am not sure that we do not all have visual minds. I am quite sure that it is what people see rather than what they hear which makes the greatest impact on their minds. For instance, I am quite sure that the flaunting of extravagance does far more to promote 1176 class war than any words that are ever used, and that is on an adult mind. I am quite certain that children learn more easily through the eye than they do through the ear, and I therefore welcome what was said by my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend also said that the boys in the remand home said that they like comics, but he was sufficiently well acquainted with what goes on there to know that a boy tries to give the answer which he thinks will please the questioner, and today that is not an uncommon habit with children. I recollect a very angry school attendance officer once asking a small child in my class, "Did I not see you out yesterday when you were supposed to be at school?" The boy replied, "No, Sir." The school attendance officer, who was an ex-inspector of the Metropolitan Police, drew himself up to his full height and said, "Do you mean to say that I am a prevaricator?", and the boy, looking at him, gave what he thought was the expected answer, "Yes, Sir."
In recent years there has been a great deal of trying by a child to find the best excuse for being in the juvenile court. First it was the penny blood, then it was the cinema, and lately it has been the horror comic. I am not convinced that the case about the immediate impact on the child's mind of these documents has been made out, but I am certain that they get the child into an atmosphere where proper development becomes difficult and where children tend to worship the wrong type of hero, which is among the most damaging things that the child can do.
On behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends, I desire to make it clear that here is an evil that has to be dealt with. We dislike censorship and anything that fetters the expression of legitimate public opinion. We are not inclined to use the word "legitimate" too narrowly, but there are some things which no civilised community ought to tolerate. The corruption of the mind of youth is one of those things.
During the Committee stage, we shall examine this Measure with great care. We wish the right hon. and gallant Gentleman well in his determination that this pollution of the minds of boys and girls, of lads and lasses, shall cease. While many suggestions have been made to make 1177 the Bill safer, I think that the fiat of the Attorney-General ought to be given before a prosecution can be undertaken, so that we shall not get what the deputy chief constable in some remote borough thinks being set as a standard.
I hope that the law will be fearlessly administered, irrespective of the price of the book. In the past, it has too often been only the cheap book that has been punished. If anyone had tried to bring out the "Decameron" in fortnightly parts at 1s. a time, it would have been before the courts long before it got before the court at Swindon.
This law must be administered fearlessly and impartially. This is not an indication to the Attorney-General to be lax in the enforcement of the law, if it comes. We shall expect him, if responsibility is placed upon him, to use the powers that are given to see that this source of corruption of our youth is made impossible in the future.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ The Lord Advocate (Mr. W. R. Milligan)
This extremely interesting and helpful debate has shown three things in regard to the attitude of the House. In the first place, the House has agreed that there is a traffic in publications of a highly undesirable type. Secondly, the House agrees that children have access to these publications and, thirdly, that these publications are harmful to children. From that point, however, the House diverges slightly. So far as one can gather from today's debate, there may be one or two Members who think that nothing should be done. There is another school of thought which says, "Wait for fuller legislation on obscenity in general." But I think the weight of the discussion has shown that the majority of Members are anxious that this Bill shall receive a Second Reading and be improved in Committee. That we would welcome.
I am not one who thinks that this Bill cannot be improved; of course, it can. I think there is only one Member in the House who thinks that, and that is the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Follick); but, flattered as we are, we would nevertheless like it to go to Committee.
§ The Lord Advocate
I think that it would be appropriate if that matter were dealt with later. [Hon. Members: "When?"] When I have concluded the main part of my speech I will deal with it. This Bill is of a type which no Government would lightly introduce, even as a part of children's legislation, and I would remind the House that this Bill is children's legislation. It is for the protection of children.
The reason that no Government would lightly introduce such legislation is that it interferes with the liberty of the subject. I agree entirely with all that has been said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice) on that, and, further, that it does involve criminal proceedings.
It was thought at one time that legislation would not be necessary and that this obvious evil could be stamped out by parents and education authorities and by the realisation on the part of publishers and sellers that in this country literature of this kind just would not be tolerated. The position has improved, but we think that the improvement of the position, apart from the influence of parents and the education authorities, has largely been caused by the public warnings which have been given that legislation was to be introduced.
We shudder to think what would happen if legislation were delayed, or worse still, if legislation was not proceeded with at all. I am quite certain that there would be a resurgence of this literature and that we should have more of it than ever before. It is greatly to be hoped that the mere existence of a Measure such as this will act as a warning and that there will not have to be many legal proceedings. A deterrent, I think, it may well be.
May I now look at other provisions of the Bill and try to deal with some of the criticisms that have been raised? As the House will realise, a considerable amount of the criticism is of a kind which can be more fully developed in Committee. In doing so, I shall try to deal with any particular points that arise from the Scottish angle.
§ Mr. Foot
The right hon. and learned Gentleman keeps referring to the Committee stage of the Bill. It makes a great 1179 deal of difference to what he is saying whether the Committee stage is to be taken on the Floor of the House or not. He is winding up for the Government. This question was put by my hon. and learned Friend who opened the debate for the Opposition and by other speakers as well as by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). Surely we should be told whether the Committee stage is to be taken on the Floor of the House or not. That is one of the main questions put from this side of the House.
§ The Lord Advocate
I do not think that from the point of view of what I am saying at the moment it really matters whether the Committee stage is taken here or upstairs. That is a point which will be dealt with at a later stage.
§ Mr. Ede
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman continues speaking until 10 p.m., Mr. Speaker, and you then put the Question, unless the Government Whip moves, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House, we shall not know what is the position. That is not a debateable Motion. Therefore, I think that it would be to the advantage of the House if we could be told, because I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman who is to move the necessary Motions on behalf of the Government at the end of the debate could say, through the right hon. and learned Gentleman, whether he intends to move that the Bill should go to a Committee of the whole House.
§ Mr. Foot
Mr. Speaker, a question has been put from the Opposition Front Bench. That question has been put also during the debate. It was put six hours ago. We have seen the consultations taking place between the four Ministers on the Front Bench as to when an answer should be given. We have seen the Home Secretary consulting the Attorney-General, the Attorney-General consulting the Joint Under-Secretary, the Joint Under-Secretary has consulted the Home Secretary, and all have consulted the right hon. and learned Gentleman who is now addressing the House. Surely it would be an insult to the House if no answer is to be given by the Minister 1180 now when winding up on behalf of the Government.
§ Mr. Royle
On a point of order. At the end of a Second Reading debate it is customary for a Government Whip in certain circumstances to move that the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House. It would appear that on this side we are ignorant as to whether a Government Whip will move that Motion after the Bill has been read a Second time. Is it not possible for us to know in advance the Government's intention?
§ Mr. Speaker
The rule of the House is that unless there is a Motion to the effect that the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House, it stands automatically committed to one of the Standing Committees, but the Motion to commit the Bill to a Committee of the whole House may be moved by any hon. Member. It is not necessarily a matter for the Government Whip; it is for the House and for the House alone to decide what shall be the destination, in Committee, of the Bill.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu
You have just ruled, Mr. Speaker, that any one of us may move that this Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House. May I ask at what stage we may do that?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. and learned Member should know. It is as soon as the House has decided to give a Second Reading; immediately after the Second Reading has been decided.
§ Mr. Foot rose——
§ The Lord Advocate
The question was raised whether stories should not also be included and why it was that it particularly referred to pictures. I think the answer really lies in this, that to the child, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings)——
§ Mr. Speaker
I did not observe that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was reading his speech. It is quite common for hon. Members, when summing up a debate, to consult notes in order to refresh their memories as to what was said.
§ The Lord Advocate
The hon. Member for Barking pointed out—and at this stage the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) will note that I am not reading—that it was very notable that children were more influenced by what they saw than by what they read. I do not think that children of the age we are now discussing would take the trouble to study documents of this kind if they had to read them. It is the particular fascination of the pictures that attracts them.
Another point raised and developed in the early stages by the hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) was that it was premature to bring in this Bill at a time when there was not ready a Bill for the consideration of the House dealing with the broader aspects of obscenity.
As was said by the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson), we are dealing with a very special evil, and where we have a special evil, I can see no objection to our dealing with it before we deal with the more general subjects. We do not delay the cure of measles until we have found a cure for smallpox. We have a definite evil here, and it is one which we feel should be stamped out at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will admit that these two are related subjects. Will not the Government give some assurance that a Bill to deal with the general question of obscenity will be introduced this Session, particularly in view of the Home Secretary's admission that the present law is unsatisfactory?
§ The Lord Advocate
I am not in a position to give any undertaking as to any particular time when any Bill dealing with 1182 the general law of obscenity will be brought in.
I said I would deal with some of the Clauses. In opening, my right hon. and gallant Friend pointed out that Clause I is extremely narrowly drawn. It is aimed at one particular type of publication—the publication which today we have called, and which everybody in the country calls, the horror comic. It is designed to defeat the horror comic and the various descriptions in the Clause are intended to cover the horror comic.
Various questions were asked about whether "Reveille," "Forever Amber" or "Life" would be caught by this definition. I think that in many cases we should find that there were not a sufficient number of pictures and in other cases we should find that there was probably not the ability to corrupt.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) asked what percentage of the pictures must corrupt. I think it would need to be a material percentage of the pictures, but that, again, is one of the points which can be thrashed out if and when the Bill goes to Committee.
Another point which my hon. Friend raised concerned the meaning of "in any way" at the end of one of the subsections. Of course "in any way" is governed by the word "corrupt," and it could be only in some way which would fall within the general definition of "corrupt." Some rather troublesome questions were asked by the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) about the meaning of "mainly" and of "crime." "Mainly" is "substantial" in the text in which we find it, and "crime" would be read by magistrates as "crime known to the law of this country." Those were, I think, the main points raised on Clause 1.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman care to deal with the other point—whether the definition effectively safeguards existing bona fide children's periodicals in this country?
§ The Lord Advocate
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to get on, I will come to that point. I intended to deal with it.
§ Mr. Hastings
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman leaves this point, would he give his views on Punch and Judy?
§ The Lord Advocate
I am sorry. I had Punch and Judy down in my notes but, having been warned about reading, I did not notice it. I do not think it probable that Punch and Judy, even in illustrated form, would fall within the Clause. It would depend, of course, on the method by which it was set out in pictures, but, on the whole, I think, the publisher, printer or seller would be safe, although one would want to see the form in which it was set out.
Reserving for a moment the point raised about ordinary children's comics, I come to Clause 2 which creates the offence. The point was raised by at least two hon. Members as to why the author should not also be included with "person who prints, publishes or sells," and, in this case, with the artist. There would be considerable difficulty in introducing the author because, as hon. Members will have realised, these volumes are composed of a series of stories and all might be—probably would be—written by several different authors. It would be impossible to say that one particular author has contributed to the work as a whole. We could not take one and say that he had committed an offence unless we could get the whole. The House will remember the words, "in the work as a whole."
§ The Lord Advocate
Different sellers, but all selling the same book in the case of the seller. There might be six authors each contributing to what, as a whole, was an offensive book.
The second point on this question is that in a great many cases they are anonymous. A third point is that in the vast majority of cases, I understand, they come from overseas—or rather stay over seas. In this connection hon. Members will realise that in Scotland there will be no jury and that it will be by summary proceeding——
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
Surely the fact that the author might be overseas or anonymous and that that might make it difficult successfully to bring a case against an author is no argument for not including the author so that, if he wishes, he can offer a defence to the charge?
§ The Lord Advocate
I think it would be extremely difficult under Clause 2, in 1184 view of the present terms of Clause 1, to bring in an author. I do not see how an author could be made liable for the unum quid as it were. It may be that the particular contribution he made did not corrupt but that in amalgamation with the contribution of his neighbouring author it did. That is the difficulty about an author, but I am perfectly prepared to consider whether an author could appropriately be brought in. In Scotland, it being a summary conviction, no question of a jury would arise.
There was some apprehension expressed by hon. Members in regard to the search which is provided for in Clause 3, but hon. Members will note that a warrant is not to be given until proceedings have been initiated. In Scotland, the proceedings being in the sheriff court, they would be initiated by the Crown, in other words, being in the sheriff court, they would be initiated under the direction of the Lord Advocate by the procurator fiscal.
As to the question of who should prosecute, that matter in relation to England will be considered before the Committee stage in the light of representations that have been made in this debate. So far as Scotland is concerned, that question does not arise because there is central prosecution under the Bill as at present framed.
The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs asked what would happen if there was an alteration in the prosecution in regard to England, but I can assure him that I see no reason for any alteration in Scotland, our system of prosecution being different.
An interesting point was raised by two hon. Members on Clause 4 in regard to visiting foreign forces in this country. The position, as I understand it so far, is that the American Forces have undertaken that they will not allow into their N.A.A.F.I. these particularly objectionable and obnoxious publications. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), who said that this was an extremely important Clause. I do not think any points were raised on Clause 5, to which the ages of 15 and 17 apply.
During the debate, considerable discussion arose on the question of intention, which has always been a thorny point in all questions of obscenity; and as hon. Members will know, the courts 1185 have sometimes appeared to differ, if courts can do such a thing, on the interpretation of the law of obscenity. We certainly will consider that point but it is an extremely difficult one. Our view was that in this case, dealing with this particular evil, we should adopt the obective standard which we have adopted. The test really is whether a publication tends to corrupt.
While, when questions of artistic or even literary merit arise, the intention might in certain circumstances be of importance, I do not think that anybody today has suggested that these publications contain any artistic or literary merit. As the right hon. and learned Member for Neepsend said—and I agree with him—they have no redeeming feature.
§ Mr. Foot
Since a large part of the argument has turned on whether it is possible to include this definition of intention in the Bill, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman deal with that matter and try to elaborate on the point as to why, according to the Home Secretary's view, it is impossible?
§ Sir F. Soskice
Before answering that question, will the Lord Advocate be so good as to include in his reply an answer to the following question? Does he accept or does he repudiate the statement made by his right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary that an accused person has only to deny that he had the guilty intent to be automatically believed and acquitted——
§ The Lord Advocate
I do not think that my right hon. and gallant Friend said that the accused had automatically to be believed.
§ The Lord Advocate
He might or might not be believed was clearly what my right hon. and gallant Friend meant.
I should like to develop the question of intention. In a case of this kind, where we are trying to protect the child who is receiving this literature in circumstances which on no possible ground can be justified—there can be no argument in favour 1186 of these things—the House would be well entitled to accept the objective view which we have taken, and the Clause should stand as it is today. But of course, it can be thrashed out in Committee in greater detail.
I hope the House will agree that the well-known type of publication popularly known as a horror comic is a horrible publication which we do not welcome in this country. It should never get into the hands of children and it is a publication which this House should desire to stop. We disapprove of this publication. Is this House to say that we cannot do anything about it? I invite the House to give the Bill a Second Reading and to improve it, if it can, when it reaches the Committee stage.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Kaberry.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.