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Importation Of Goods, Conegate Ltd

Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 3 June 1986

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2.42 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what conclusion they have reached on their consideration of the judgment of the European Court overturning the Customs and Excise ban on the importation of goods by Conegate Ltd. from Germany.

My Lords, under the Treaty of Rome the Government are bound by the judgment of the European Court of Justice. Henceforth Customs and Excise will apply their controls on imported goods in line with the court's judgment.

My Lords, may I thank my noble friend for that reply? However, is he aware that it fails absolutely to meet the substance of the Question—that there is now a loophole in the Customs and Excise power to prevent this offensive pornography flowing into this country from abroad? Is my noble friend aware—bearing in mind in particular the sense of the House yesterday in favouring measures to strengthen the protection of family life and the educating of children sensibly in sex education—that it would be quite out of line to leave this weakness in our legal position? Will my noble friend therefore go back to his right honourable friend the Home Secretary and ask him to study the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and to consider drafting an amending Bill which would add to the Act manufacturing in addition to publication, which it would be perfectly possible to do?

My Lords, the simple fact is that, in accordance with the judgment of the European Court of Justice, we have to apply the same tests to these goods imported from one member state to another as we do to goods on sale within the boundaries of the United Kingdom. However, I very much appreciate the sentiments expressed by my noble friend and I shall certainly draw them to the attention of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the grossly obscene and indecent nature of these articles? In the judgment of the Crown Court here they were described in this way:

"The dolls when inflated show nearly life-size images of the developed female form with orifices, one with a vibrator being some electrical device attached to the head [and] with simulated pubic hair".
The dolls were,
"variously described as 'Love Love Dolls', 'Miss World Specials' and 'Rubber Ladies'; there were in addition a number of what are called 'Sexy Vacuum Flasks".
Is it not perfectly clear that our Customs were absolutely right in condemning those articles as obscene and indecent and that the courts here were equally completely right and justified on the very grounds of the Treaty of Rome and on the grounds of public morality? In those circumstances arc we not entitled to go by the Treaty of Rome itself and to ignore, if you please, the wrong decisions of the European Court, or can we not tell our courts to cock a snook at the European Court?

My Lords, the fact is that the European Court of Justice has said that we should apply the same test to importing over our national boundary as we apply to the sale of these articles within the United Kingdom. The articles are classified as indecent and not obscene and they are allowed to be sold within the United Kingdom. I shall draw the matter to the attention of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and no doubt he will be made well aware of all that your Lordships have had to say on the matter.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the judgment in this case—contained in Common Market Law Reports Part 549—is in the Library of your Lordships' House and would, in fact, repay detailed study? Is he also aware that the only reason why the European Court gave the judgment that it did was that it is still permissible to manufacture and to distribute within this country the articles to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, has referred? If there is any doubt about this, will the noble Lord consider tabling an amendment to the European Communities (Amendment) Bill that is at present going through the House, in order that we may redress the matter on the lines suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning?

My Lords, I shall, of course, draw all that has been said in your Lordships' House to the attention of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. It is for him, or indeed for anyone, to introduce an amendment at any time.

My Lords, would not my noble friend agree that protection of the family takes priority even over the obligation to defend the state and that that must be the first concern of Her Majesty's Government at any time?

Yes, my Lords. As I have said, it is still legal in this country and therefore to look towards Europe as a method of defence against something which is legal in this country is not quite correct. What we should consider is what is allowed in this country.

My Lords, is it not better that men who are so minded should obtain their satisfaction from rubber dolls in private rather than go around terrorising and raping women in the streets?

My Lords, I am not sure that I can see the connection; but it is not for me to say.