Prosecutions have been brought and will continue to be brought in all appropriate cases. The problem of offensive, unsolicited circulars which are not at present in breach of the law falls within the terms of reference of the Committee on Privacy announced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that it is too late to wait for that committee because this muck is still being distributed unabated all over the country? Does he not think that it is time to look a this matter to try to decide on some further test of obscenity which will enable extra prosecutions to be brought?
I know the feeling that is strongly and properly felt about the distribution of offensive material of this kind. But the House should know that we are not inactive in this sphere. Last year Customs seizures of pornographic publications amounted in the case of books to 1,654,000 and in the case of magazines 925,000. There were 128 prosecutions in 1968 under the Obscene Publications Act. If comparison with earlier days is relevant, that is twice as many as in 1963.
Is the Attorney-General aware that in my constituency there is clear evidence that this filthy traffic is increasing and that it causes particular distress, because in many cases such material is being addressed either to young people or to persons who have died? The main problem appears to be not from traffic abroad but from publishers in this country. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman take an urgent look again at this matter to try to stop the considerable distress that is being caused to many people?
We are taking this matter very seriously. Prosecutions are pending regarding the kind of material that is being distributed. Obviously, I cannot comment on those. We are not taking a complacent attitude. The police, Customs and the Post Office are being as energetic as possible in this sphere. The problem is the definition of what is offensive for the purpose of prohibiting its distribution through the post when it is unsolicited.
While appreciating my right hon. and learned Friend's efforts, may I ask whether he realises that at present such publications are being sent to people whose names appear on electoral registers, which now include many people of 18 years of age? Will the Attorney-General try to come to some conclusion on what is obscene, because many of the things which I receive I certainly consider obscene, and I believe that I am pretty broadminded?
This matter has been referred to the Committee on Privacy to consider whether there should be some definition of these offensive publications which could enable them to be caught by the criminal law. The present definition of obscenity, unfortunately, does not catch some of the circulars which cause the greatest offence.
Whilst I realise the difficulty to which the Attorney-General refers and accept what he says about it, he will be aware of the " Ladies Directory " case? Will he consider the possibility of instituting proceedings for conspiracy to effect a debauchery of public morals?
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, that would be casting a very wide net indeed in the sphere of the criminal law. Conspiracy has been called the dragnet of the criminal law. But a conspiracy to debauch public morals—where would that begin and where, indeed, would it end?