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Books (Censorship)

Volume 498: debated on Thursday 27 March 1952

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will, in view of the large quantities of pernicious literature now being displayed for sale, take steps to set up a censorship for these kinds of books in order to remove from the magistrates' courts the responsibility of deciding whether a book is obscene and unfit for general sale.

Is the Minister aware of the present danger of cases coming before a magistrates' court where two different sets of magistrates come to different decisions on the same kind of book?

I hope the House will agree with me broadly that censorship, to be effective, must be authoritarian—that is, not open to challenge—and in this country that would be abhorrent. It is a dangerous institution which might be misused, and it is a clumsy and wasteful arrangement which is notoriously difficult to operate. There are several other reasons against it, but I think these are the main ones.

May I ask the Minister if it is not the case that police regulations already provide all the powers that are necessary for the effective safeguards required?

I think that the present system is sufficient to deal with the problem.

May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman if it is not a fact that any citizen can institute a prosecution in England and Wales where he believes a publication is obscene and detrimental to morals?

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the books that have been brought before my court are being sold in most establishments in London.

I think the hon. Gentleman ought to follow the advice of his right hon. Friend and institute proceedings.