RESOLUTION. HC Deb 08 May 1888 vol 325 cc1707-25 1707  

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RESOLUTION. HC Deb 08 May 1888 vol 325 cc1707-25 1707[1]

§ MR. S. SMITH (Flintshire)

said, he rose to call attention to the Motion which stood in his name, and which was as follows:— 1708 "That this House deplores the rapid spread of demoralizing literature in this country, and is of opinion that the law against obscene publications and indecent pictures and prints should be vigorously enforced, and, if necessary, strengthened." He assured the House that nothing but an imperative sense of duty had led him to take up so painful and so disagreeable a subject—nothing but the knowledge that there had of late years been an immense increase of vile literature in London and throughout the country, and. that this literature was working terrible effects upon the morals of the young. Such havoc was it making that he could only look upon it as a gigantic national danger; indeed, he questioned. whether at the present time the people of this country were suffering more from the effect of an excessive use of strong drink than they were from the more subtle poison of vile and obscene literature. There was nothing that so corroded the human character, or so sapped the vitality of a nation, as the spread of this noxious and licentious literature, and he believed it was at the bottom of that shocking state of the streets of London, of which they were continual witnesses. The House would readily ask him for proof of his statement that there had been of late years a great development of this evil. He would, in the first place, refer to the public confession of one whom he charged to be the chief culprit in the spread of this pernicious literature—he referred to Mr. Vizetelly, the publisher of French novels, who in The Pall Mall Gazette a short time ago boasted that his house had. been the means of translating and selling in the English market more than 1,000,000 copies of the worst class of French novels. That statement was made in The Pall Mall Gazette without a word. of reprobation. Mr. Vizetelly boasted that at the present time he was selling in England 1,000 copies of the writings of Zola. He would quote a few lines from Mr. Vizetelly's statement— "We, of course, know of the immense popularity of Zola in France and most European countries, and were aware that there was a tolerably large sale for the wretchedly-translated and mutilated American editions of his works imported into this country. After much hesitation we determined to issue an unabridged of Nana, suppressing nothing, and merely throwing a slight veil over those passages to which particular exception was likely 1709 to be taken. The success of the work, although not rapid, was very complete, and induced us to reproduce the whole of Zola's published novels, and to purchase the English copyrights of all his new ones." He was quite aware it was inexpedient to advertise works of this kind, but in this case the sale was so enormous throughout the country, the facts were so generally known, that he saw no object now in preserving silence. Of the character of these works he would say nothing more than that he believed nothing more diabolical had ever been written by the pen of man. These novels were only fit for swine, and their constant perusal must turn the mind into something akin to a sty. The Saturday Review, a short time ago— "Directed the attention of the police to the fact that books which no shop dare expose in Paris, or even in Brussels, are to be seen in windows in London. Books which have only escaped suppression in France through the astounding laxity which has allowed some parts of Paris to become nearly impassable to decent people—on the showing of Parisian papers themselves—are translated and openly advertised." Some hon. Members might say that The Saturday Review was something of a purist, but no one would make such an accusation against Society, one of the society papers. This paper said, on the 21st of April last— "But of late has come a brutal change over this spirit of not too innocent fun, and the name of the worker of the transformation is Realism, and Zola is his Prophet. Realism, according to latter-day French lights, means nothing, means nothing short of sheer beastliness; it means going out of the way to dig up foul expressions to embody filthy ideas; it means not only the old insinuation of petty intrigue, but the laying bare of social sores in their most loathsome forms; it means the alternation of the brutal directness of the drunken operative of to-day with the flabby sensuality of Corinth in the past. In a word, it is dirt and horror pure and simple; and the good-humoured Englishman, who might smilingly characterize the French novel as 'rather thick' will be disgusted and tired with the inartistic garbage which is to be found in Zola's La Terre. Yet Messrs. Vizetelly, of Catherine Street, Strand, are allowed with impunity to publish an almost word for word translation of Zola's bestial chef d'œuvre. In the French original its sins were glaring enough in all conscience, but the English version needs but a chapter's perusal to make one sigh for something to take the nasty taste away." He would now read a few lines as to a very painful incident; at least it struck him as a very painful incident. A writer in The Sentinel said— 1710 "The only acquaintance which the writer of this article has with Zola's novels is from two pages of one of the most notorious of them placed open in the window of a well-known bookseller in the city of London. The matter was of such a leprous character that it would be impossible for any young man who had not learned the Divine secret of self-control to have read it without committing some form of outward sin within twenty-four hours after. In this case a boy, apparently about fourteen Years old, was reading the book. The writer immediately went into the shop, and accosting the manager in a loud voice, demanded that he should step outside and see this boy reading this infernal book in your window.' The shop was full of customers, and the manager naturally looked thunder-struck. Half-an-hour afterwards, when the writer passed, the book was gone." Now, he asked were they to stand still while the country was wholly corrupted by literature of this kind. Were they to wait until the moral fibre of the English race was eaten out, as that of the French was almost. Look what such literature had done for France. It overspread that country like a torrent, and its poison was destroying the whole national life. France to-day was rapidly approaching the condition of Rome in the time of the Caesars. The philosophy of France to-day was "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die." Some might have seen the very striking article on the present state of France in The Nineteenth Century. Mr. Myers, in the article entitled "The Disenchantment of France," pointed out that this kind of literature had led to the decay of all belief in a noble ideal of life, and the degradation into which what the late Mr. Matthew Arnold called the "Worship of the great goddess of Lubricity" had plunged the country, was vividly pourtrayed. Such garbage was simply death to a nation. Were they to wait till this deadly poison spread itself over English soil and killed the life of this great and noble people? Contrast our country with Germany. He passed. through Germany last autumn, and made many inquiries as to the social life of the country. Novels of the Zola type were forbidden to be sold; indeed Germany surrounded its children with safeguards which were wholly wanting in this country. Nothing to him was more melancholy than the garbage on which the children of London fed. The chief literature on which London children fed was what was called the penny dreadful and the penny novelette. An enormous 1711 circulation of these papers took place; they were sold by hundreds of tons weight; they were almost the entire staple of the reading of many hundreds of thousands of the children of the poor and even of respectable artizans and the middle class. He read some time ago in The Edinburgh Review an analysis of the type of street literature that was mainly devoured by the children of London. He would quote a few lines which he thought would impress everyone in the House, as they did him, with a most painful sense of the noxious effect of this unwholesome garbage. The writer in describing very fully the various classes of the cheap penny papers, said— "The feast spread for them is ready and abundant, but every dish is a false one, every condiment vile. Every morsel of food is doctored, every draught of wine is drugged; no true hunger is satisfied, no true thirst quenched; and the hapless guests depart with a depraved appetite, and a palate more than ever dead to every pure taste and every perception of what is good and true. Thus entertained and equipped, the wide army of the children of the poor are sent on their way, to take part in the great battle of life, with false views, false impressions, and foul aims. The pictures of men and women to whom they have been introduced are unreal and untrue. The whole drama of life as they see it is a lie from beginning to end, and in it they can play none but a vicious and unhappy part." Could anyone be surprised at the misery and degradation and immorality that abounded in London when he pictured to himself the intellectual food upon which the children had feasted for so many years? Need they wonder that they were rearing in London a population which to a large extent would prove a source of weakness to the nation? He regretted to say that in a great measure the Elementary Education Act had been a failure on account of the total want of safeguards to protect the children after they left school—on account of the innumerable temptations that surrounded them on every side, and amongst these temptations he ranked the sale of licentious literature, with which we were literally surfeited. This literature penetrated everywhere. He was informed there were men employed as agents going round to the middle class and upper schools of the country in order to place in the hands of boys and girls pictures of a vile kind and advertisements of a vile kind, so as to induce them to pur- 1712 chase these demoralizing works. He was told there was a well organized system of this kind which penetrated into nearly all the schools of the country. He came in contact with many persons who made it the business of their lives to try and rescue the young from these snares. Facts had been brought to his knowledge which had filled him with sadness, facts of so shocking a nature he could scarcely state them to the House. But one which he believed to be thoroughly authentic he would state; he had it from a lady who had investigated it with care and who had ascertained the true facts of the case. It had become the rule with a class of low booksellers in London to provide indecent literature for young girls, to offer them every inducement to come into the shops and read the books, to provide them with private rooms stocked with the vilest class of literature, where on making the small deposit of 6d. they were supplied with the literature. And he was told that in many cases these shops were in league with houses of the worst class, to which the girls when their minds were sufficiently polluted and depraved were consigned. This had become a trade carried on to such an extent that he was told there was one street in London where 10 shops were devoted to this purpose. He asked what the law of this country was doing? What were they doing to allow such abominations to continue? They debated and squabbled here about many matters of secondary interest. He maintained that this was a vital matter which lay at the very root of the nation's welfare, and he often wondered at the small amount of time this House spent on questions of this kind, and at the extreme difficulty with which any such question could be brought before the House. He could not conceive any subject with which Parliament, jealous of the highest interests of the nation, ought to be more anxious to deal wisely and rationally than such a question as this. In addition to these books—and if the Home Secretary chose to appoint a Select Committee to inquire into the subject, he would supply him with proof of all the statements he made—there was an immense circulation of lewd photographs and prints of every sort and kind of the very worst type. There was an organized system for sending 1713 these pictures over the country. Only to-day he was told of a case in which a gentleman in the country received an advertisement of boots and shoes from a house in London, and inside that was a small notice that on application photographs would be sent. He made an application, and a parcel of most indelicate photographs of nude females was sent to him. He (Mr. S. Smith) asserted that in England we suffered from mistaken ideas of liberty. A class of vile scoundrels came over to England simply because the freedom of our laws enabled them to carry on their nefarious trade which their own country probably would not allow. Within his knowledge there was a large number of persons in London who had been driven from abroad, who had suffered imprisonment, and who dare not live in their own countries, because their characters were so well known; they came here, and brought with them the vilest practices, and carried them on almost untouched. He was sorry to have to add to the papers which de-graded the public mind—certain of our sporting papers. He had looked over some of the sporting papers, and he was bound to say that such wretched non-sense, mixed up with a great deal of lewdness, as he found there, it had seldom been his lot to read. How any cultivated man, or rational man, could amuse himself with reading such wretched trash as was printed in some of the sporting papers, he could not understand. Again, when in India, he was surprised find on all the book-stalls an unlimited supply of French novels, and almost nothing else. He scarcely ever saw upon the stalls the book of any well known literary man; but he was told that the worst class of French novels were bought in tens of thousands, and were regarded as samples of European civilization. He would allude very briefly to another class of books. He had spoken mainly of the cheap literature sold to the masses in immense quantities. He was told there was also a very expensive class of abominable literature now published in London, and that there was a society devoted to the publication of this depraved and lascivious literature. There was one book which had recently been published at 10 guineas. Many Members would know the book to which he 1714 referred, It contained the most abominable suggestions, and there was so large a run upon it at the present time that copies were being sold at 26 guineas each. The author, he believed, was on the point of bringing out five additional volumes. He was told that nothing more loathsome had ever been printed; but he supposed there were men of such depraved mind who were only too eager to regale themselves with such filth. Why was it the law did not touch these things? The law had been put in force against the paper called Town Talk, and he congratulated the Home Secretary upon the fact that a very bad number of a very bad paper had brought about a prosecution. He noticed that 17 vendors of the paper were fined last week, and very properly so. But he was not aware that the owner or publisher of the paper was fined. Somehow or other our laws touched the weaker and not the stronger; they always struck at the agent and not the author. He asked why was this 10 guinea book, admitted by everyone to be most detestable, allowed to be purchased by the leading clubs of London, and allowed to be circulated in London without the publisher or author being prosecuted? That was a question to which he should like an answer. If there was such a demand for this class of literature, at its present high price, was it not perfectly obvious that in a few years time it would descend to the masses? If it paid the publisher to circulate it at 10 guineas, the time would come when he would publish it at a guinea, and perhaps at 1s., and then there would be an enormous overflow of this new class of poison. He was told that catalogues of these books were sent almost all over the country, that the trade was so organized that people were tempted in all parts—in the most remote parts—of the country by the agents of this vile trade. The streets were polluted with the advertisements of quack doctors. One of the greatest evils of late years had been the great increase of quack advertisements of a filthy kind. It was remarked to him the other day, by a gentleman who had spent much time on the Continent, that whereas in Germany he never knew one of these indecent advertisements to be thrust in his hand, when he came to London such advertisements were thrust into his hand frequently. 1715 The well known clauses in the Metropolitan Police Act did not in any way touch the pernicious class of literature which was strewn broadcast in the London streets—namely, pamphlets issued by quacks, and thrust into the hands of every passer-by, and which made statements with regard to secret diseases which were frequently untrue, and which were mostly intended to induce to impurity of life, and also by working upon the fears of the readers to terrify them into consulting the medical quacks whose names might be on the pamphlets. He commended to the notice of the Home Secretary this weighty collection of vile literature, this social nuisance, which, he thought, ought to be dealt with in a far more stringent manner than it had been hitherto. Now he came to the daily Press. His firm conviction was that all these evils had been greatly aggravated, greatly increased, in the last few years by the action of some of our newspapers with regard to the reports of low divorce cases which they had published with such fulness. He believed that the reports of vile divorce cases, published with loathsome plenitude, gave an immense impetus to the demand for indecent literature. They had created a taste for it; because there was this characteristic about this class of reading, that the more a man read, the more he wanted to read. There was no doubt that the loathsome revelations of the Divorce Court some years ago had greatly increased the appetite for indecent literature, and would make it more difficult to stop its spread. If we, as a nation, decided upon new methods of stamping out this horrible disease, this pestilence, we must take some means of purifying the daily Press, and putting limitations on the power of publishing the details of Divorce Court proceedings. The House might ask what remedy he would apply. He would observe the law as it stood, for he thought it was sufficiently stringent. The Act called Lord Campbell's Act, if vigorously worked, would do a great deal to suppress this class of literature; but it was not vigorously worked, it had been allowed to fall into disuse. The administration of the law had become so lax that it was hardly of any value at all. Twenty years ago, no London publisher dared to print and put in circulation such books as were now 1716 published; they would have been indicted at once, and sharply and severely punished. But, from a false notion of liberty, we had allowed this plague to spread on all sides, and now many people thought it was too late to do any good. He could not assent to that. He believed that was the pessimism of despair. He believed that if we had an evil to grapple with we should go forward, in the name of God, and grapple with it. Let us attempt to do so, and he believed we would not do so in vain. He was told that magistrates who formerly were perfectly willing to initiate proceedings against the publishers and vendors of this literature now very frequently refused to do so. A case was mentioned to him yesterday in which some vile pictures were submitted to a magistrate, and he declared he could not encourage proceedings in respect of them, on the ground that it would be an interference with what was conceived to be the liberty of the British subject. He (Mr. S. Smith) believed in liberty to do right, but not in liberty to do wrong. He believed that liberty to deprave a fellow-man was much more honoured in the breach than in the observance. He considered the police were very inactive, and that they allowed things to go on which ought not to be permitted. We ought to have a Public Prosecutor. He did not know where the official called the Public Prosecutor was. He believed there was some one known by that title; but he seemed to be asleep, he seemed to have had his wings clipped. It might be said to him (Mr. S. Smith) that private persons ought to institute proceedings. But it was very disagreeable for private persons to take action, because it brought them into a great deal of odium. He believed that we had not done our duty; we ought not to have stood by while this terrible pestilence was spreading throughout the country. In other countries, the State undertook this duty; and he held that, on the whole, it was a much better and thorough way of dealing with this evil. What we wanted to do was to create a sounder public opinion. He believed this House could do that. A good discussion in the House, and a strong condemnation of these detestable practices, would have immense effect on the country. There were many who were wishing to get a little encouragement to put the law in 1717 force. He was happy to think the Home Secretary thoroughly sympathized with him. He did not bring the matter forward in any attitude of opposition to the right hon. Gentleman or of the Government. Indeed, he believed the debate would strengthen the hands of the Home Secretary. He was happy to think the right hon. Gentleman was willing to advance so far as the House would encourage him. He hoped the House would send forth such an expression of opinion to-night as would strengthen the hands of the officers of the law in coping with this enormous evil.

§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

seconded the Motion.Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House deplores the rapid spread of demoralising Literature in this Country, and is of opinion that the Law against obscene publications and indecent pictures and prints should be vigorously enforced and, if necessary, strengthened."—(Mr. Samuel Smith.)"

§ SIR ROBERT FOWLER (London)

said, he thought his hon. Friend the Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith) had done a great service to the country by calling attention to this subject, and he trusted the Government would accept the Motion. Some years ago the then Home Secretary, Mr. Bruce, had had his attention called to obscene prints extensively circulated about the streets, and had taken effective action with regard to them.

§ MR. DE LISLE (Leicestershire, Mid)

said, he did not propose to make a speech in supporting the Motion of the hon. Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith), and for the reason that he had no plan to suggest, or any counsel to give, which would enable the Government to deal with this monstrous evil. But it was a matter of great satisfaction to him to be able to raise his voice, along with that of his hon. Friend who had preceded him, in support of a Motion of the kind. He believed that the greatness and the happiness of the nation depended chiefly upon the purity of its morals, and he did not know of a reason which any sane or prudent man could allege in favour of the propagation of indecent and demoralizing literature. He trusted that some endeavour would be made to see whether it was not possible to cope with the terrible evil which the Motion referred to. Un- 1718 fortunately, the evil affected the class of persons who were least able to resist it. Those who were rich and had comfortable homes might keep the evil from their doors; but the poor, who had little scope for the higher enjoyments of life, naturally picked up the literature which was nearest at hand. It was a terrible evil that this filth should be thrown in the faces of the people day after day; and therefore he hoped that the House, if it did express an opinion on the matter, would speak most emphatically, and be prepared, if necessary, to limit that liberty of publication of which in most respects we were so justly proud. The highest duty of Conservatives was to safeguard the morals of the people; indeed, he was convinced that if they allowed the corruption of moral sentiment which had been going on for years to continue, there was no system of government which could be erected which would long stave off the threatening clouds of revolution.

§ MR. F. S. POWELL (Wigan)

said, he was quite sure there was enough in the arguments and facts brought forward to justify the introduction of the subject in that House. He expressed the satisfaction with which he had observed, as a Member for the last two Sessions of the Committee on Police and Sanitary Bills, the growing desire of Local Authorities to take more effective powers against the distribution of demoralizing advertisements and tracts. Local Authorities were taking steps in that matter, and clauses had been introduced into a considerable number of their Police Bills to enable them to deal with it, and, so far as he know, this had been done without objection from any Member of that House. There was a kind of literature—circulars headed with scriptural texts, and looking like religious tracts—which in effect, though not in name, was demoralizing. He must protest against the action of those well-meaning people who, in their endeavours to improve the condition of the women of India, thought it right to circulate in English homes and among English women and girls a class of literature that was calculated to do permanent harm. He would earnestly entreat them, while thus zealous for the purity of Indian women, not to violate the scantity of English homes.

1719

THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. MATTHEWS) (Birmingham, E.)

said, that it was beyond doubt that there had been of recent years a considerable growth of evil and pernicious literature, and that its sale took place with more openness than was formerly the case. The French romantic literature of modern days, of which cheap editions were openly sold in this country, had reached a lower depth of immorality than had ever before been known. In comparing such literature with classical literature, it must be borne in mind that while the latter was written with no evil purpose, the former was written with the object of directing attention to the foulest passions of which human nature was capable, and to depict them in the most attractive forms. Such literature was, in his opinion, calculated to do great harm to the moral health of the country. But it was not only French literature that ought to be condemned, much harm was also done by what the hon. Member had termed the penny dreadfuls, the quack advertisements, and the full reports of divorce cases which appeared in the public daily Press. All such classes of publications were pernicious in the extreme, and they ought to be brought within the reach of the law in every civilized country. It must, however, be remembered that the law in this country was a tolerably effective weapon as it now stood, and that under the powers conferred by Lord Campbell's Act, by the Metropolitan Police Courts Act, and by the Vagrants Act, ample powers were given which, if effectively used, would prevent the circulation of immoral literature. The reason why the law was not more frequently put in force was the difficulty that was experienced in getting juries to draw a hard and fast line and to convict in all cases that crossed that line. He had given careful attention to this question, and he should deprecate handing over to the Public Prosecutor, or anybody else, the task of deciding what was the strait and narrow line which divided what was punishable, criminal, and obscene within the meaning of the law, and what was merely indelicate and coarse. The public judgment was a safer guide than that of any official, and if the general moral sense of the community did not compel individuals 1720 to prosecute, no good would be done by trying to create an artificial moral sense by the action of the Public Prosecutor. The hon. Member had done well in directing public attention to the insiduous mischief which resulted from publications which trembled on the verge of indecency and which did much to vitiate the public taste. It would be most unwise and dangerous to direct public attention to certain obscure publications of a filthy character known only to the few by instituting a State prosecution, and thus give that wide advertisement which those who brought them out would desire more than anything else. The hon. Member would do great service if he would give the public authority the facts which he had stated to the House, which, he confessed, were new to himself. It was, indeed, a most deplorable thing that literature of this kind should be supplied to little girls or circulated among boys. There could be no doubt that such acts were within the Criminal Law, and he would certainly on reasonably good evidence direct proceedings if any such facts were brought to his knowledge. He could give the same assurance with respect to advertisements of vicious literature. There was no machinery by which the Public Prosecutor could get information of this kind, and he did not believe that public opinion would tolerate any system of organized spies for the purpose. If, however, everything were brought to the knowledge of the Public Prosecutor by individuals within whose cognizance such crimes came, no time would be lost in putting the law in to motion. But serious evils arose from the failure of attempts to obtain conviction upon such charges. So far, however, as he could influence the Public Prosecutor, who was, to some extent, independent of any Public Office and acted on his own discretion, he would certainly urge prosecutions in any cases in which it did not appear that more harm than good would result. He had in his official capacity to consider the case not only of obscene but of blasphemous literature. But on inquiry he found that the offending publications were so contemptible and obscure that much more harm than good would be done by dragging them into the light of day. He was sure, however, that the hon Member and all those who had honest convictions would 1721 not shrink from the slight personal inconvenience of putting the law in motion in any case of real public mischief. He had no word to say against the Motion so far as it expressed the hon. Member's opinions on the subject itself, though he could not accept it if it implied any censure of Public Officials.

§ MR. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)

said, he had no desire to prolong the discussion by entering upon the legal part of it, so well expounded by the Home Secretary; but he would offer a few remarks in reference to the Motion of the hon. Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith), for which he, in common with every Member of the House, had entire sympathy. All were anxious to put a stop to the circulation of this abominable literature, but in this country, and in every country of Europe, the people had been educated to think, and some literature must be provided to meet the intellectual craving. He was glad to say that the spread of healthy literature in this country surpassed anything else of the kind ever known or dreamed of. Hundreds of thousands of standard works were published at so low a price as 6d. and even 3d. a volume, and the demand for such was enormous. It was not surprising that in this prolific soil some weeds grew up, but he hoped, and really believed, there was not that corruption of the mind of the country going on such as his hon. Friend feared. There was a large demand and a large supply of literature of every class. On the registers of our Sunday schools were the names of 6,000,000 children, a larger number than attended day schools, notwithstanding the compulsory powers of enforcing attendance. Was it not a fact that every one of those children possessed a copy of the scriptures, and were they not supplied with healthy literature at extremely low prices, or that it was lent to them through the libraries? Here was the antidote for this moral poison—the establishment of free libraries in all our large towns. In that respect the Metropolis was behind almost all the large towns of England—there was less public life, less civic spirit in London than anywhere else. As compared with our northern towns, the difference was one hardly realized. In two or three towns with which he was best acquainted—take Nottingham for instance—the Free Library circulated 1722 more than 1,000 volumes every day, and in Sheffield something like 500,000 books were lent every year. And that was only a part of the supply, which was supplemented by other institutions, such as mechanics' institutes, clubs, and Colleges, which added a supply of healthy literature to sound teaching. Here he saw the real antidote, the supply of healthy literature, and an intellectual training to preserve the young from the pernicious effects of the poisonous stuff to be met with. Something was said by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. F. S. Powell) in reference to the circulation among Members of Parliament of pamphlets in reference to what was going on in India and elsewhere.

§ MR. F. S. POWELL

said, he merely alluded to publications of an apparently religious character, and which he had no doubt were earnestly and sincerely meant to promote the cause of religion and morality, but which contained matter which must be most pernicious and injurious to the moral sense of the young.

§ MR. MUNDELLA

said, he understood the hon. Member to refer to the circulation of letters in reference to practices alleged to be carried on in India.

§ MR. F. S. POWELL

said, he mentioned no names, and would rather not mention names, because that had the effect of advertising the sheets. He was speaking of periodical publications, intended, no doubt, to be of a religious character.

§ MR. MUNDELLA

said, he would accept the statement in the broadest way the hon. Member would desire to make it; but this he might say—that they—the Legislators—ought to know, and ought not to be afraid to know, the truth, and the whole truth. Whatever was done within the British Empire, discreditable though it might be to our legislation and our moral nature, the House should know of it, and ought not to be afraid to know of it. They ought not to shrink from full knowledge of the facts that had been brought to the notice of Members, and though he should be sorry indeed if some of the circulars that had been placed in his hands recently should fall into the hands of young persons in his house, yet he was glad to know it if such things were done, and under the sanction of our 1723 countrymen, the rulers in our great Dependency. Every Member of the House should feel the full responsibility of tolerating such infamy. ["Hear, hear!"] It was in reference to that that he wished to say a word or two. He was anxious as anyone to suppress the publication of anything suggestive of indecency, yet, if indecent practices were carried on, if such things were done with the authority of our countrymen, Members of Parliament at least ought to know of it, if only that they might put an end to the practices, rather than to put an end to the statements that such practices existed.

§ MR. MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)

said, for many years he had taken great interest in this most important question, and he sincerely thanked the hon. Member for Flint-shire (Mr. S. Smith) for bringing the subject forward in the manner he had. Thanks, also, were due to the Home Secretary for the fair and candid manner in which he had met the Motion and expressed his desire, speaking with legal authority, to put down the pernicious growth of impure literature among us. As to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Flintshire, he (Mr. Mark Stewart) could not help thinking—and he had mentioned it before—that we must mainly look to other than legal process to check the spread of this literature. We should look to those large agencies, those societies that had done so much in the past, and would continue their work, to spread abroad the means of becoming acquainted with healthy literature. Of course, it was difficult, when a prosecution was instituted, to obtain a conviction on the merits of the case, and failure to convict increased the evil. But in town and country those agencies to which he referred were exercising a most salutary effect by depots in towns, by colporteurs in country districts. In too many of the lowest parts of towns unwholesome literature circulated, because it was all that was at hand; but the efforts of the associations for the spread of literature of a wholesome class were directed to inducing shops to supply the better class of reading, and there was no unwillingness on the part of traders to do this when it was shown to them that it was their interest to do so. That he had on the testimony of a friend who visited the 1724 back streets and slums with that object in view, and had paid some 20,000 visits to shops which sold the bad reading for the masses. Those interested should give every encouragement to the good work. Meanwhile the schoolmaster was abroad; every child could read, and was eager to read, and should have within reach that which was, while interesting, instructive and religious in tone. The work was difficult, yet could be carried on by judiciously selecting centres and providing shops, stalls, and colporteurs to meet and to encourage demand. Much could be done in that way to promote the view expressed in the Motion. With regard to what had been said about the circulation of papers in reference to matters that had been commented upon in the House, though it might be useful to bring such matters to light, yet it should be done by some less indiscriminate method than had been adopted.

§ MR. H. J. WILSON (York, W.R., Holmfirth)

said, there was much in the speech of the Home Secretary that must give general satisfaction; but his hon. Friend (Mr. Smith) had made one reference as to which some explanation would have been desirable. His hon. Friend referred to a recent prosecution for the sale of a certain publication, and rather pointedly challenged the Home Secretary to say why he did not proceed against the publisher, instead of the lads who were selling the publication. Unless there was a good reason for it—and for aught he knew there might be a sufficient answer—it did seem to him rather unfair to allow the prosecution of the sellers, while the greater sinner who made the larger profit, the publisher, was left untouched. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield for his remarks in reference to what had been said by the hon. Member for Wigan, and as one who had had a good deal to do with such matters, he could assure the latter that it was with the greatest regret this literature was circulated to Members in reference to the working of the Contagious Diseases Act; but it was the only way to make the truth known, and the only way to stop the dissemination of such statements was to put an end to the horrible system that rendered such dissemination necessary.

1725

MR. S. SMTTH

said, he desired to take the sense of the House on the question, not in the spirit of any censure whatever upon the Government, for he entirely sympathized with and heartily reciprocated the language of the Home Secretary; nothing could be more satisfactory. To the Motion, be believed, there was no opposition, and it would, no doubt, be accepted unanimously. This unanimous judgment of the House would have a very useful effect out-of-doors.

§ Question put, and agreed to.

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