British Legislation in the Sixties

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  • Created on: 21-05-13 08:27

The Obscene Publications Act 1959

BackgroundUntil the 1960s, the state had tried to maintain a firm control over the opinions and morals of other people through censorship of theatre, cinema and literature, while radio and TV were also operated under strict licensing rules. Roy Jenkins became the Labour Home Secretary in Dec 1965 and was in a position to act on his own advice; the tide of liberalism was well underway.

Details of the Act- Adult literature that was 'in the interests of science, literature, art or learning' should be exempt from censorship.

Impact and Success?- 

·         Lady Chatterley’s Lover although previously censored- Penguin believed that its literary merit permitted the book to be published under the terms of the Obscenity Act.

·         It allowed choice and enabled people to buy the literature they wanted to read.

·         Oz magazine-what had once been deemed shocking became more acceptable as the decade had progressed a traditional 'Victorian' morality lost its hold.

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The Murder (Abolition of the Death Penalty) Act 19

Background- Arguments against the death penalty had been advanced in the 1950s and although public opinion remained sharply divided, the anti-hanging campaign had received a particular boost from the public sympathy, e.g. Ruth Ellis, a younger mother who murdered her unfaithful lover. In 1957, the Tories had reduced the number of cases carrying the death penalty but Sidney Silverman, a Jewish Labour backbencher, campaigned tirelessly to win support for total abolition.

Details of the Act- In 1965, on a free vote hanging were abolished for a trial period of 5 years, and in 1969 this was made permanent.

Imapct and Success?

·         Roy Jenkins refused to authorise the beating of prisoners, which ceased after 1967 and he brought in 'majority' verdicts for English juries rather than unanimity. This helped convict many dangerous and professional criminals but the abolition od hanging did not significantly reduce the number of murders or violent crimes as its supporters had hoped.

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The Sexual Offences Act 1967

Background- The government tried to crack down on homosexuality, enforcing a law that carried a penalty of two years' imprisonment for homosexual relations between men. (Female sexual relations had never been subject to law and lesbianism was therefore legal). The 1950s purges actually helped turn public opinion in favour of a reform in the law and in 1957 a committee under John Walfenden reported in favour of decriminalisation. When the Conservative government rejected its recommendations, The Homosexual Law Reform Society was founded and its first meeting in London in May 1958 attracted 1,000 people. Tony Crosland and Roy Jenkins were in favour, whilst Harold Wilson was privately hostile and it was left to Leo Abse. With Jenkins support, he was able to get enough parliamentary time for is Private Members ' Bill to become law as the Sexual Offences Act 1967.

Details of the Act- The act allowed homosexual relations by consenting males over the age of 21, provided they took place 'in private'. Obviously, the act was welcomed by men who had previously been afraid to declare their sexuality and in some cases been forced to lead double lives. However, the act was quite narrowly interpreted and it did not mean the complete end of prosecutions for homosexual practises.

Impact and Successes- It did not change the majority views in the public and it did not fully condone homosexuality.

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The Abortion Act 1967

Background- Until 1967 abortion was illegal. The only way of terminating a pregnancy was to find a private clinic, if the fees were affordable, or to search out a 'backstreet' abortionist. Between 100,000 and 200,000 illegal abortions were performed each year and about 35,000 women were admitted to hospitals as a result. David Steel led the reform campaign in parliament, while Roy Jenkins ensured an all-night Commons sitting in order to pass the bill.

Details of the Act- The Abortion Act 1967 permitted the legal termination of a pregnancy within the first 28 weeks, under medical supervision and with the written consent of two doctors.

 Impact and Successes?

·         The number of abortions increased from 4 per 100 live births in 1968 (35,000) to 17.6 in 1975 (141,000).

·         Opponents, including the Catholic Church, pressurised for the amendment or abolition of the act.

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The Theatre Act 1968


Following the pattern set by John Osborne, Arnold Wesker and Harold Pinter, writers and producers began experimenting with new styles of plays, often addressing social issues.

Detail of the Act-

  • Legitimising of such plays which permitted nudity on stage (13 member cast of Hair). 
  • It allowed a broader approach on playwriting
  • Allowed a wider range of language to be used.
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The Divorce Reform Act 1969

Background-Until the 1960s, divorce law demanded evidence that one party had committed adultery. To gain this, the well-to-do had resorted to private detectives and cameras but, for the less well-off, evidence was difficult to obtain and divorces were often impossible as a result. Jenkins believed the laws were outmoded and the Divorce Reform Act was passed in 1969. 

 Details of the Act- This allowed for 'no fault divorce' following the 'irretrievable breakdown' of a marriage. Couples could divorce if

·         They had lived apart for 2 years and both wanted it. OR They had lived apart for five years and one wanted it.

Impact and Successes- There was a huge increase in the number of divorces. In 1950, there had been fewer than 2 divorce decrees per 100 married couples in England and Wales, but by the mid-1970s, nearly one in every two marriages ended this way. This could be partly explained by the growing female independence.

·         It didn’t encourage divorce but it made it easier and people usually were just separated and were not divorced.

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The Equal Pay Act 1970

 Background- Although women formed about 35 % of the workforce by 1970, a report established that average pay rates were only 63.1 % of men's

Details of the Act- The 1970 Equal Pay Act attempted to address this disparity and established the principle of equal rates of pay for the same work or work rated as equivalent. It ruled that men and women should receive the same pay for the same job (but implementation was delayed to allow employers time to prepare their payroll adjustments).

 Impact and Successes?

·         The act brought a marked increase in women's relative earnings, but the gap did not disappear and some women resorted to taking their cases to the European Court, highlighting the need for further action.

·         One concern was the act's failure to address bars to female promotion.

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Sexual Discrimination Act 1975

Background- One concern of the Equal Pay Act was the act's failure to address bars to female promotion, a matter remedied by the Sex Discrimination Act.

Details of the Act- Under the terms of the Sex Discrimination Act it became unlawful to:

-Discriminate on grounds of sex in the field of employment and in the provision of educational facilities, housing, goods, services and opportunities.

-Discriminate in adverts in the above-mentioned areas.

Impact and Successes

·         By 1980 women's wage levels had reached 73.5 % of men's and significantly more women were entering business and professional occupations.

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