Oral Answers to Questions — Offensive Publications (Circulation)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd April 1970.

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Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Warwick and Leamington 12:00 am, 23rd April 1970

asked the Attorney-General what further steps he is taking to curb the distribution of pornographic literature to members of the public who have not requested it.

Photo of Mr Keith Speed Mr Keith Speed , Meriden

asked the Attorney-General what further steps he proposes to take to curtail the distribution of unsolicited obscene and pornographic literature through the post.

Photo of Sir Elwyn Jones Sir Elwyn Jones , West Ham South

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.

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Warwick and Leamington

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?

Photo of Sir Elwyn Jones Sir Elwyn Jones , West Ham South

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.

Photo of Mr Keith Speed Mr Keith Speed , Meriden

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?

Photo of Sir Elwyn Jones Sir Elwyn Jones , West Ham South

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.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

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?

Photo of Sir Elwyn Jones Sir Elwyn Jones , West Ham South

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.

Photo of Mr Quintin Hogg Mr Quintin Hogg , St Marylebone

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?

Photo of Sir Elwyn Jones Sir Elwyn Jones , West Ham South

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?