True, but what is the object of retaining in the law a restriction of that kind which only complicates the situation and which gives a sense of inertia which overcomes all of us at times? One might, after reading a book, dash off a letter to the Censorship Board but a person might think a long time before deciding to lobby four other Senators for the purpose. If an amendment of this sort were introduced in this section it could be extended a bit to eliminate that limitation.
Moreover, as it stands this section does not give to the Censorship Appeal Board any right of initiative. They must wait until somebody appeals. This seems to me to be undesirable. If any member of the Appeal Board, having read some book, finds that it should not have been banned, he must go round lobbying T.D.s and Senators. Such a member of the Appeal Board should be able on his own initiative to have the book examined if he feels there is a necessity to have that done. Therefore, I ask the Minister if he would consider an amendment under which the Appeal Board could not only at the instance of five Members of the Oireachtas or of the publisher or author but at the instance of any member of the Appeal Board decide that a book should be looked at again.
As well, it has not been the practice to appoint to this Board any writers and this seems an extraordinary topsyturvy attitude. We should, in considering the banning of books, in all marginal and difficult cases, call in people of literary ability. Even under present legislation some attempt could be made to appoint people of particular competence, either a professor of literature or a writer. This is not something for legislation, I suppose, but something on which the Minister's discretion could be used in relation to the composition of the Board.
Another condition which natural justice requires is that a writer should have the right to appeal and the right of being heard in his defence if he is prepared to do so. The present star chamber procedure, which is behind closed doors, without any opportunity being given to writers to have their views heard and considered, seems to be objectionable if not unconstitutional.
These are some amendments which could have been introduced and which I think should be introduced. I am puzzled as to why the Minister, when taking the trouble to bring in the Bill, should have limited himself to the relatively minor amendments, useful in their own way, particularly the first one which gets us off the hook in relation to much of modern literature; but I am puzzled why he did not go further while he was at it and get himself some credit for clearing up the censorship code entirely.
Another matter in respect of which the Minister has done nothing—here I am particularly surprised that he should have taken no action—is the importation of banned books. The situation here is entirely unsatisfactory. I spoke earlier of the situation probably being unconstitutional under present legislation, but I am speaking now of the customs officer having the right to confiscate a single book brought in by a person for his own use without there being any question of the person selling it, distributing it or in any way circulating it for the purpose of corrupting other people. Such activity should not be contemplated. It is something which in any event is unconstitutional.
The position is complicated because this is done under the provisions of an odd combination of the Censorship Acts of this State and the 1876 Customs Consolidation Act which we have inherited and a number of whose provisions are unconstitutional. It is again something the Minister could direct his attention to. There are in that Act sections 232 and 240 under which people can be locked up without any right of appeal at the instance of the Revenue Commissioners. Under it people are, in fact, incarcerated and, indeed, not very long ago there was a case under which the period of incarceration was concurrent and identical with that specified by the court. It broke down because the Governor of the prison forgot to draw the attention of the Revenue Commissioners to it when the time for release came and the person spent the weekend in jail.
That section of that Act is not relevant here but I draw the Minister's attention to another example of the provisions of the Act which are unconstitutional and about which, after 30 years under our own Constitution, we might get around to do something. It is something which, if the Minister does not do, we propose to do it for him. Section 42 of the Act provides:
The goods enumerated and described in the following table of prohibitions and restrictions inwards are hereby prohibited to be "imported or brought" into the United Kingdom, save as thereby excepted and if any goods so enumerated and described shall be imported or brought into the United Kingdom contrary to the prohibitions or restrictions contained therein, such goods shall be forfeited, and may be destroyed or otherwise disposed of as the Commissioners of Customs may direct.
The interesting thing about it is—apart from the fact that while it may have been perfectly legal under the British regime it is not constitutional under our Constitution—that there is no provision as to how it is decided in respect of books how they are determined to be indecent or obscene. The table sets out:
Indecent or obscene prints, paintings, photographs, books, cards, lithographic or other engravings, or any other indecent or obscene articles.
It is not even suggested in that clause that these should be defined as indecent or obscene in the opinion of the Revenue Commissioners. It is simply decided by the Revenue Commissioners that they are indecent or obscene and there does not seem to be any procedure through which that verdict can be challenged. That procedure is backed up by our own Censorship Acts. Visitors coming in here, bona fide, bringing in books which are accepted as part of world literature, find themselves deprived of their property, which they bought in good faith. This gives them a most peculiar feeling, like entering communist China, instead of being encouraged by a country which purports to welcome tourists.
Mind you, this is being operated and we have had examples of its operation in the not too distant past. I recall coming back on one occasion, having been to England. I had travelled a lot and had purchased a number of books, en route to read, and had purchased a number to bring home with me. The result was that I had accumulated a lot of books, none of which was banned, none of which was indecent or obscene; but the attitude of the Customs man was one of immediate suspicion and alarm. He asked me was I involved in a newsagency. I thought he meant Reuter or Press Association and I said I had written for newspapers now and again. I realised immediately that I was a suspect person. The mere fact of being literate is considered sufficient to render one suspect in this country. He examined all the books carefully and let me pass, which was more than he did when I brought back some fireworks shortly afterwards. Fireworks are prohibited, too.
This provision is entirely objectionable. One can conceive that the customs authorities must have power to control the import of indecent literature for sale and distribution. If somebody arrives with a number of these books, particularly with a whole lot of them, and they seem to be obviously intended for sale and distribution, they must have power to confiscate them, but this power should be confined to cases where the Revenue Commissioners have reason to believe that the books are being imported for sale and distribution and they intend to prosecute on that account. Of course, in such cases there must be power of confiscation pending the result of the prosecution. But they should have no power to interfere with the individual traveller travelling on his own legitimate business simply because some book he has was banned under the lunatic Irish censorship code in the previous 40 years, or as it is to be now, 12 years.
The Minister should have introduced such an amendment to the Customs Consolidation Act, 1876 and to the Censorship Acts, because it is, in fact, by a peculiar combination of these that this power is operated, because section 13 of the Act of 1929 provided that:
Where a prohibition order had been made in relation to a book or a particular edition of a book or a periodical publication, then so long as such order is in operation the importation (otherwise than under and in accordance with a permit in writing granted under this Act) of any edition of such book or issue of such periodical publication (as the case may be) to which such order for the time being applies shall be added to and included in the table of prohibitions and restrictions inwards contained in section 42 of the Customs Consolidation Act, 1876, and that section shall have effect accordingly.
In other words, we are not prepared even to leave the situation that the customs authorities shall confiscate what they think is an indecent or obscene book where they might suspect that some books were indecent or obscene. We require them, in addition, to confiscate ones which we have banned, showing a remarkable lack of confidence in our own censorship code, as to whether it operates properly or not. If we were satisfied that it was only banning indecent or obscene books that section of the 1929 Act would not have been necessary, and it could now, with the relevant section 42 of the Customs Consolidation Act, be usefully repealed.
On the point of the length of time that should elapse before books are automatically unbanned, the Minister has in the Dáil, as I have said, consented to a reduction of the period from 20 to 12 years. I should like to quote from a letter I received from a member of the clergy on this point, advocating a ten year period as the maximum.
(a) On the moral ground that literary works, however powerful and alien to the home outlook, can be and will be digested and assimilated by the educated or intelligent within a decade of their first appearance. If not they will hardly ever be assimilated (of course this approach assumes that clergy and teachers will give a more positive moral formation from now on); (b) on literary and cultural grounds also, ten years indicate clearly enough whether a book is significant or not, and usually provide as well a provisional "placing" or rank for the book while the middle range and lesser books are obsolescent by the end of a decade. Briefly, if we have to wait 20 years for a certain range of books, they will, from the literary point of view, not then really contribute to the vital cultural ferment which feeds creative writers and the cultural community. Ten years, in my opinion, would be a better compromise, for such a time lag would keep the Irish community sufficiently in touch with contemporary currents of sensibility while allowing for that margin of difference in our way of life which still exists and which may need some cushioning.
That is on this issue of the 12 years, which is certainly an improvement on the 20 years proposed. There is not much point in arguing on the difference in this matter, but I regret that the Minister did not accept the ten years suggestion made in the Dáil but felt that he had to fall a couple of years short of it.
Another section of the original legislation which is now becoming totally nonsensical and liable to get us caught in rather awkward situations if we do not do something about it is that dealing with books or articles advocating the unnatural prevention of conception. Thinking on this subject, as Members of the House are aware, has been changing with great rapidity recently, and but for the fact that fortunately—one must say that in inverted commas—the law in this respect has not been applied, we would get very few newspapers or magazines from outside this country. But for the fortunate fact that it is not being applied we would have to fear for many theological pronouncements from the highest authority, and might, indeed, come to the point where we would have a Papal Nuncio protesting because of our censorship of the next encyclical on the subject. But as, in fact, this is not enforced that problem is not likely to arise. However, the law as it stands could apply to any newspapers or magazines which discuss this problem thoroughly, as it needs to be discussed. While it may be premature to modify our thinking in respect of contraception, it is certainly not premature, but already too late, even to be setting about amending the law with respect to the discussion of the problem of contraception, which is, indeed, totally ineffective. The Minister has failed to introduce any amendment in this Bill and is, in fact, maintaining the law as it is irrespective of future modifications. This brings the law into contempt and it is something which the Minister should consider and he could usefully introduce an amendment even at this stage.
These are some of the defects I find in the Bill. They are, of course, with one minor exception, regarding the ten year period, defects by omission rather than by commission. The Minister is to be congratulated to a modest extent on having introduced some improvement in our legislation. It is true that many of the mistakes in the past administration of the Censorship Board will be relieved by the automatic unbanning of everything which was banned before 1955. That will go a long way towards retrieving the situation, but it does not go any real distance towards improving it for the future. So long as the situation persists that our definition of indecency is much too wide, and so long as individual customs officers can and do confiscate books from individual travellers, so long as these things exist we shall continue to represent a face of obscurantism to the world.
This is a pity, because we have a code of values in this country of which we can and should be proud, and it is not to our advantage in any respect, either to our own self-confidence or in the view of the world, that we should operate such a system of censorship that can raise in our own minds contempt and cynicism and create a feeling of an inferiority complex vis-á-vis critics from outside who so readily complain of blunders made under our system. If we are to maintain our view and have confidence in our view that there are values to be preserved and that it is right and proper that pornography should be restrained, we would need to make the changes I have suggested in order that we shall not feel in the position of weakness in facing critics from outside and can be confident that our legislation does what needs to be done and what other countries are, in fact, omitting to do, but does no more than that. Our legislation should be something which is appropriate to a Christian country but appropriate also to a country in which individual freedom and liberty are a matter of public concern. It is a pity the Minister has not taken the opportunity to make those other changes which could have turned our censorship into a sensible and responsible one, a defensible one, one of which we could be reasonably proud, about which we could be reasonably happy, one which we could defend in good faith to people of other countries without any feeling of an inferiority complex because of features we could not defend properly. It is a pity this opportunity has been missed. On Committee Stage I will do what I can to remedy any of the Minister's omissions, which can be remedied at this stage, within the limits of order in this House. So far as any difficulty of this nature arises on any of his amendments I think some of us in this House should then consider initiating a measure of reform for those other aspects which the Minister has seen fit not to deal with on this occasion.