Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 3rd March 2008.

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Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Attorney General), Home Affairs 5:30 pm, 3rd March 2008

It may very well be right that the Government should tackle this problem, but this debate indicates that the way they are trying to tackle it is unclear, as are their aims: are they trying to ban people from possessing simply material that causes sexual arousal, or, as my noble friend Lord Wallace said, material that incites a public mischief?

I am taken back to the Oz trial back in 1971—that may be before the Minister's time. The indictment in that case is interesting. The editors were charged with:

"Conspiring to produce a magazine containing diverse lewd, indecent and sexually perverted articles, cartoons, drawings and illustrations with intent thereby to debauch and corrupt the morals of children and young persons within the Realm and to arouse and implant in their minds lustful and perverted desires".

Geoffrey Robertson, now Queen's Counsel, a colleague of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and later to write the leading legal textbook on obscenity, said in an article in Cherwell,

"They don't write laws like that any more".

He added, "Nor should they". He went on to quote from an Arts Council report of 1969 where it had quoted with approval the evidence of Dr Anthony Storr, a well known and leading psychiatrist of the day, who said that when people use the terms "depraved" and "corrupted",

"they are very often referring to the idea that persons could, by reading literature, for instance, be encouraged to engage in sexual perversions which they have never thought of. In my view, disturbances of sexuality of this kind have their origin in early childhood and are the result of the family environment to which the individual was exposed during his first five or six years".

As the Minister said just now, recent research seems to confirm the views that were expressed nearly 40 years ago. If the offence—not of producing and distributing material of this sort but of simply possessing it, never mind whether you are looking at it—is to be punishable by three years' imprisonment, it is necessary to know precisely what the limits, boundaries and purpose of that offence are to be. The clause may have been drafted after consultation, as the Minister said, but it is clearly held all around this House to be unsatisfactory. It should be looked at again and withdrawn from the Bill.