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Obscene Publications

Volume 529: debated on Thursday 8 July 1954

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will refuse the request of certain organisations of book sellers that he supply them with a list of books and periodicals which have been held by the courts to be obscene, since the circulation of such a list would greatly assist persons seeking obscene literature.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware that the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, Booksellers and Stationers is anxious to prevent the sale of obscene books and if he will consider giving this organisation the list of such books which is in the possession of his Department, so that local agents could be informed by the national organisation, and the flow of such books be curtailed.

I have no power to declare a publication obscene. There exists a list of books condemned by the courts in recent years, but the publication of it would be misleading apart from the mischief to which the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) calls attention and I am satisfied that it would not be in the public interest to make it public.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that I certainly did not ask whether he had any power to declare a book obscene, which was the suggestion made in the Question of my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay)? I referred to decisions in the courts.

Is the Minister aware that magistrates are coming to different decisions on the same book, and would it not be better to decide whether a book is obscene before it leaves the publisher rather than leave the question in the hands of the magistrates?

I know how much the hon. Gentleman feels about this, but, with respect, I disagree. His first suggestion would lead to the establishment of a centralised censorship and his second would take away from the regional magistrates the right of expression of their views. Both of these I consider to be important points.

Is it not a fact that many books which, if brought before the courts a few years ago, would have resulted in a conviction, are now published and read by the public at large?

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman indicate what general standards, if any, prevail among people responsible for dealing with these books? What standards are current in the determination of obscenity or non-obscenity?

That is a question which would require a careful statement, and I should like the hon. Member to put it on the Order Paper.

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider circulating to clerks to magistrates the recent remarks of Mr. Justice Stable?


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will appoint a committee to inquire into the working of the law relating to obscene publications.

No, Sir. I am not satisfied that the appointment of a committee would serve any useful purpose.

Would not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the present state of the law, under which respectable publishers go in grave peril, is almost universally condemned by those who are interested in the development of English literature, and that the time has arrived for an inquiry into this matter?

As I have indicated, I do not agree, but I should be very grateful if the hon. Member would submit some of his considerations. I should willingly consider them.