Clause 1. — (Works to Which This Act Applies.)

Orders of the Day — Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th April 1955.

Alert me about debates like this

7.5 p.m.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I beg to move, in page 1, line 13, to leave out from "fall" to the end of line 15.

The House will recall that we had quite a considerable discussion in Committee about an Amendment similar to this. At the end of that discussion the Home Secretary—as a result, I think, of some pressure brought upon him from both sides—undertook to consider the matter between then and Report stage. I very much hope that as a result of that consideration the Government will find themselves impressed with the force of the arguments then used.

The point is a relatively short but not, I think, unimportant one. Substantial improvements have already been made in the Bill in Committee. We on this side of the House are appreciative of the efforts which the Home Secretary has made in meeting some of the objections which we felt to the Bill in its original form. I want quite shortly to summarise the reasons why I think that the Bill would be improved if we eliminated these somewhat ambiguous and, as I think, unnecessary words. They appear to have been inserted partly with a view to defining the word "corrupt", although there was some disagreement between us as to whether the purported definition extends or reduces the meaning of that word in its ordinary significance.

One argument which appealed to me was that of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). He said, speaking partly from his experience as a magistrate, that when it becomes necessary in a court of law to construe an Act of Parliament—particularly an Act of Parliament containing a criminal offence—the fewer words there are in it the better.

We are now agreed that the chief aim of the Bill is to deal with horror comics which tend to corrupt children and young persons. I think that if we were to leave it there the court should not, in any ordinary case, have any difficulty in saying of a given magazine which portrays stories of a kind defined in the Bill that there is or is not a tendency to corrupt. If that is the sole question, it will be so much easier for the court to reach a decision. I would urge the deletion of these words because, in an adjectival sense, they purport to give some illustration of what would be corruption, but do not purport to be an exhaustive illustration of the corruption which this Bill aims to prevent.

Another reason why I think these words in brackets, giving this partial definition, are objectionable is that they are ambiguous. The Solicitor-General gave us some advice during the Committee stage as to where, in his view, the final words or in any other way whatsoever) would be construed as ejusdem generis—that is to say, of a like nature with the preceding words. After all, the opinion of the Solicitor-General on that matter, as he would be the first to acknowledge, would not bind any court of law, and other people think that there is a good deal of ambiguity in these final words.

I will not repeat the arguments used during the Committee stage, as they were fully adduced. I think that the Bill would be improved if these words were omitted. I assure the Home Secretary that he would not be giving anything away but would be simplifying the administration of the Bill. I therefore hope that he will be able to accept the Amendment.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , City of York

We are obliged to the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) for raising this matter once again. What is involved is a problem—as I think, a difficult problem—of drafting. We adhere to the view expressed during the Committee stage that not much difference results to the effect of the Bill by having the words in the Clause or leaving them out.

We had hoped that by putting them in we might reduce the field of possible argument before a magistrates' court if a point should be raised as to the meaning of the word "corrupt" in the context, and perhaps in that way getting rid of difficulties and having to go to a higher court to obtain a final decision about it. Having had the opportunity of considering the various arguments raised on one side or the other in Committee, we think that this is a case in which brevity would be the handmaid of clarity, and we are content to accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.