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Novel "The Naked And The Dead"

Volume 465: debated on Monday 23 May 1949

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asked the Attorney-General what action he proposes to take in regard to the novel, "The Naked and the Dead," copies of which have been obtained by the police on account of its alleged obscenity.

Yes, Sir. After consultation with the Director of Public Prosecutions I have decided not to initiate proceedings in this case, a prosecution in which does not require my fiat. As, however, the matter is of some public importance, perhaps I may indicate the reasons which have led me to this conclusion.

The matter is a difficult one upon which different views may well be held. I am not prepared to say that no court would treat this regrettable publication as obscene. The matter is one of fact and degree and it may be that some courts would consider that the publication did offend the law. I have, however, never regarded it as my duty to institute proceedings in every case in which it can be argued, possibly successfully, that the criminal law has been infringed. I do so only where I consider that the protection of the public interest in a broad sense requires the criminal law to be set in motion, whether in order to punish offenders or to deter others from the commission of offences.

In cases of the kind involved here, there are two public interests to which I must have regard. It is important that no publication should be permitted to deprave or corrupt morals, to exalt vice or to encourage its commission. It is also important that there should be the least possible interference with the freedom of publication and that the Attorney-General should not seek to make the criminal law a vehicle for imposing a censorship on the frank discussion or portrayal of sordid and unedifying aspects of life simply on the grounds of offence against taste or manners. Whilst there is much in this most tedious and lengthy book which is foul, lewd and revolting, looking at it as a whole I do not think that its intent is to corrupt or deprave or that it is likely to lead to any result other than disgust at its contents.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that his decision on a book which, whatever its defects, is a serious attempt at a work of art will be widely welcomed among sensible people; and is he aware that it is desirable that there should be the widest possible distribution among the Atlantic Treaty nations of this gruesome description of war and the psychological chaos in American society?