HC Deb 10 February 1978 vol 943 cc1826-922

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

Before I call the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) to move his Private Member's Bill, may I say to the House that I understand that almost everybody present in the Chamber intends to catch my eye to speak? It is therefore impossible for everybody who wishes to speak to do so. I intend to give preference in regard to those who wish to catch my eye to hon. Members who have not caught my eye this Session. I think that is fair, except to say that I will try to see that parties are represented.

11.15 a.m.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am grateful to the House for giving me another opportunity to introduce a Private Member's Bill. My Youth and Community Bill was talked out by a Minister in February 1975. Believing, as I do, in the forgiveness of sins and the redemption of ignorance, I hope that the Minister will harbour no such evil intentions towards this Bill. Perhaps it would be helpful if I were to remind him that his hon. Friend who talked out my last Bill fell by the wayside not long afterwards.

Child pornography is a distasteful subject to debate. Not unnaturally, the vast majority of our fellow countrymen are not fully aware of its prevalence in these islands, for much of the trade is kept under the counter. But right hon. and hon. Members appreciate from their postbags that there is much growing public anxiety and strong pressure for legislation action. Half a million people have already signed a petition calling for a change in the law. We have a duty to look into the sewers of our society. We have a duty to provide penalties for those who abuse our tolerence and our freedoms. Above all, we have a duty to protect innocent children.

No hon. Member can be unmindful of the Biblical reference to those who offend against "one of these little ones" and of the suggested penalty. I put it to the House, with all the vigour I command, that those who sexually exploit our children are evil men whose activities must be curbed.

I would remind the House of some remarks by Cardinal Heenan: The moral decline of any generation begins with the corruption of the young". Throughout history there has always been a tiny minority who have sought sexual pleasure with children. Throughout history that minority has always been condemned and prosecuted, for obvious reasons. In the Western world, since the last World War, there has been a gradual easing of the laws controlling pornography. In the last few years so-called soft porn has given ground, perhaps inevitably, to so-called hard porn. That, in turn, has led to various deviations such as a vile combination of sex and extreme violence, even murder, and what Americans call "kiddie porn".

The majority of Western countries and States have either set up investigations into child porn or have passed new laws. I shall not discuss what happens in Communist countries, but hon. Members will be aware that such countries have always taken a very strong line against internal pornography. Even in the countries in which porn is freely available to adults, there are usually restrictions on the sale or distribution of obscene material to minors.

In Australia the Police Offences Act 1977 introduced penalties of fines or imprisonment for any person concerned in the production or publication of obscene articles involving a person under 16. In Sweden a committee was ap pointed by the Government last year, and the embassy tells me that legislation is expected shortly. On Monday President Carter put his name to an amendment to the American Child Protection Act to prevent the sexual exploitation and abuse of children. A total of 35 American States have passed laws prohibiting child porn.

Accustomed as we are in Britain to being influenced by what goes on in the United States, we must take careful note of what has been going on there. An horrific article appeared in The Sunday Times on 4th December under the heading "The Chicken Hawks of Los Angeles" which reported a police sergeant as saying Thirty thousand boys and girls are sexually exploited by adults in Los Angeles every year.…At least 25,000 have had their pictures taken for sexploitation movies or magazines. According to the Chicago Tribune, child pornography and child prostitution, once confined to the darker shadows of American life, have blazed into the open in cities across the country in the last 18 months. They have become highly organised multi-million-dollar industries operating on a scale that few Americans have begun to comprehend. An American doctor who is fighting this trade is reported as saying They are destroyed by these experiences. They are emotionally and spiritually murdered. In London this week is the leading international authority on the world trade in child pornography, Dr. Densen-Gerber. I am most grateful to her for her expert legal and medical advice and wholehearted support. Last night at a meeting in Westminster Hall she told us that the United States was producing 269 child porn magazines a month. She estimated that 1 million children had been caught up in child prostitution in her country.

As a psychiatrist, Dr. Densen-Gerber has put forward a most powerful case against the assertion that child porn does not cause crime and results only in what is called masturbatory release. She is convinced that it damages more children, by stimulating and encouraging the deviance of those whose own sexual drive is dangerous to them.

In recent months I have carried out a nationwide investigation into child porn in Britain. I have consulted the police, child welfare organisations, the Churches and other religious bodies as well as the parents of children who have become entangled in it. I have been greatly assisted by the National Abuse Compaign—Action to Ban Sexual Exploitation of Children—and the Festival of Light. I have benefited from the knowledge and experience of those who have carried out detailed research in this field over the past year or so.

It is clear that the vast majority of child porn, perhaps over 80 per cent., comes from abroad—from Sweden, Holland and Germany in particular. The authorities would appear to have legal powers to deal with the imported pictures, under the Customs and Excise legislation, but they are hampered by a shortage of manpower. It is clearly difficult to search one container lorry for a packet of porn, let along 100. This smuggled-in material has titles such as "Lolita", "Children Love" and "Lust for Children". The magazines sell in our streets and cities for between £2 and £8 a copy.

It is impossible to prove beyond a shadow of doubt that the photographing of children for pornographic purposes is on the increase in Britain, although the majority of those whom I have consulted believe that that is so. After all, we are considering an activity that has one foot in the criminal underworld. But there must be no doubt that the photographing of children for such purposes is widespread in this country, and is not confined to Greater London or the big cities.

There have been too many articles and reports in the newspapers in the past few months to leave any doubt. I wish to praise The Times, the London Evening News and Evening Standard, The Sun and the Daily Mirror for their recent investigatory journalism. The Sun had a very good article. Marjorie Proops of the Daily Mirror wrote: In the past I have defended certain types of pornographic publications—have even suggested that soft porn can help couples with sexual problems. I didn't think I would ever be shocked by anything published under the general label of pornography. But the child-porn books I have seen during the Mirror's investigations have disgusted me beyond description. BBC Television had a most convincing programme on the subject which was shown again to hon Members on Mon- day. Incidentally, the producer told me that he had at first pooh-poohed the seriousness of the matter, but he had been shocked by what the BBC researchers had unearthed. The programme proved conclusively that photographs of this sort are being taken in Britain.

I am indebted to the Director of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children for the following significant statement: We do from time to time have to deal with cases where our officers discover that children are being photographed for pornographic purposes and under our standing arrangements with the Home Office we report these to the police for prosecution of any offence and ourselves take any necessary steps for the protection of the children. Both the police and we are often inhibited by the present state of the criminal law. Yet the Home Office mind remains unmoved. As recently as 18th November—I hear the Home Secretary muttering—the Minister of State wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) stating blandly: The Home Secretary has no evidence of the existence of any significant problem which the law is at present inadequate to cope with. One wonders what the Home Office has done to consult those best able to advise it.

The last chilling pronouncement from the Minister was delivered to me 10 days ago. He wrote: Your draft Bill, which raises a number of issues of principle, tends to reinforce our feelings that these matters would be better left to the kind of review presently being undertaken by the Williams Committee and that legislation in advance of the resolution of these issues in the wider context is bound to have unsatisfactory features. Then comes a line that I thought perhaps heralded the end of the Ice Age: This does not mean that the Government wish to oppose your Bill. However, one's heart plunges again when one reads the last sentence: I attach a separate note setting out some comments, which in some cases raise questions of a fairly fundamental nature. How could this great Department of State get out of touch not only with the man in the street but with the policeman on the spot?

Mr. Neil Macfarlane (Sutton and Cheam)

I am following closely what my hon. Friend says, and my fears are very much compounded by it. On 1st February I asked a Question to try to ascertain whether the Home Office could identify the number of prosecutions of those involved in purveying or promoting pornographic material involving children. I asked for figures for each year since 1965. The reply from the Minister of State, which I hesitate to tell the House, was: From the information collected centrally, statistics of proceedings relating to pornographic material involving children cannot be separately identified. —[Official Report, 1st February 1978: Vol. 943, c. 158.]

Mr. Townsend

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. A number of us have had trouble trying to discover the present position. I hope that the Minister will reply in detail to the point my hon. Friend has just raised.

This week I received a most important letter from one of Britain's most able and effective chief constables, the Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester Police. He said that there had been a number of cases in his area of indecent photographs of children being taken, and added: many of the cases now giving cause for public concern do not come within the ambit of current legislation…There is clear evidence from several of my police divisions that more and more pornographic material seized by my officers depicts young children…It is estimated by my Vice Squad officers that of all the material seized from hard porn' book shops in Greater Manchester approximately 5 per cent. of it relates to child pornography…In this connection, books seized have included scenes of buggery, sexual intercourse, masturbation, sex between children and other nude photographs all involving children…Another of my divisional Vice-Squads has reported that films of children engaged in sexual acts with adults have also featured regularly in raids on book shops… He goes on: In my personal and considered opinion, the law relating to the involvement of children and young persons in sexual activities could be improved to deal particularly with cases in which children are photographed or filmed for pornographic purposes". That is the professional view of an outstanding police officer. It is fully supported by the evidence that I have received from other police officers up and down the country.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

Could the same senior police officer give instances of where he had been successful in bringing people before the courts for this abominable behaviour?

Mr. Townsend

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no problem in certain areas. If the photographer goes on to assault the child, he can be prosecuted. I would make the point that it is not that Greater Manchester is unlike other cities, only that Greater Manchester is a step ahead in dealing with what goes on.

We would be wise to recognise that a lucrative market has been established in Britain. The evidence from the police is that sophisticated operators are well versed in the law's current confusions and I would add that the most professional operators are not so stupid as to lay a finger on the child, yet that is the very group that I am after.

If as a result of new legislation passed in the United States, which has been supplying much of the material, foreign supplies diminish—as presumably they will—our own pornographic photographers will fill the gap and build their fortunes on the ruin of our children.

Before turning to the individual clauses in the Bill, there are other important points of a general nature that I should like to make. First, it should be understood that children from low-income families, one-parent families and broken homes are more likely to be at risk because they are easier for the photographers to get hold of.

Second, Indian and West Indian children are being used increasingly, possibly because they are more readily available and possibly because their photographs are preferred by the purchasers.

Third, child models are not infrequently sexually assaulted. I trust that no hon. Member would be so foolish as to suggest that because there are adequate laws to deal with cases of sexual assault there is, therefore, no requirement for a new law to prevent the sexual exploitation of those who are not also sexually assaulted.

Fourth, the police tell me that porn, and particularly child porn, is often used to encourage child models to adopt obscene poses and, indeed, to have sexual relationships with other children, adults and even animals.

Fifth, we now have in Britain an abominable child sex group called the Paedophile Information Exchange. Hon. Members will know that it has been publicly pressing for legislation to allow sexual relationships with children down to the age of four, believe it or not. It claims 250 members in Great Britain. It has its own nationwide news sheet and contact lists.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

In passing, will my hon. Friend say how gratifying is the news that the abominable creature who helped to run that organisation has been expelled from the Open University?

Mr. Townsend

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Dr. Densen-Gerber told me this week that in addition it sends information throughout the world and is becoming the centre of the network. It feeds on child porn and is most certainly interested in British children who feature in child porn pictures.

Sixth, on the reliable information that I have been given—I have met many funny people in recent weeks—even the porn merchants themselves have become concerned about this insidious and revolting trend in porn.

Seventh, sexual offences against children in Great Britain are on the increase. In the years 1964, 1965 and 1966 there were 770 offences known to the police of unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 13. The figure for the years 1974, 1975 and 1976 was 926. Taking those same years, the number of offences known to the police of unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 16 rose from 11,877 to 13,592.

The Home Secretary looks puzzled. He should presumably know these figures.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

I was not puzzled. I was looking horrified because I have to look at this stuff. It is the muckiest, most horrible stuff that I have to look at. I was not looking puzzled at all. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will deal with this subject in such a way that we can all be helpful rather than in the way in which he is presently dealing with it.

Mr. Townsend

Again taking the same years, the number of people found guilty of gross indecency with a child rose from 31 to 145. In the words of the leader in The Times of 9th September: All advertising is based on the principle that whatever arouses intense interest also tends to encourage people to act. Common sense suggests that this applies to pornography". I should perhaps mention that New Scotland Yard has had to deal with 36 cases of child prostitution in the last two year.

I am indebted to the many eminent QCs and legal experts who have advised me on the present state of the law. The Obscene Publications Acts of 1959 and 1964, the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act 1955 and the Sexual Offences Act 1956 all border this grey area. However, the most relevant Act is the Indecency with Children Act 1960. A yawning chasm will immediately be seen with regard to this Act because it is concerned only with children under 14. It does not protect young people between the ages of 14 and 16—two very vulnerable years when they are not only approaching sexual maturity but also when they are of special interest to the photographer and more likely to be away from their parents and thus available.

Worse, the extent of the operation of this Act is by no means clear, for it contains the unhappy and unhelpful phrase with or towards a child". What does that mean? Careful research shows that to all intents and purposes those who take obscene photographs of children, without assaulting them or touching them, are not being prosecuted, because of the great uncertainty of the law. Even if it were possible to prosecute successfully, the penalties would be inadequate.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex South-East)

We are all following very closely the massive case which my hon. Friend is making for a change in the law. I am puzzled, as I am sure are other hon. Members, by one thing. There is no reference in my hon. Friend's Bill to the text of child pornography, which experts tell me can often be more explicit, degrading and corrupting than actual photographs. I find it difficult to understand why—given that my hon. Friend has the opportunity of carrying what I hope will be the whole of the House of Commons with him—he has not attempted to cover that area as well.

Mr. Townsend

As usual, my hon. Friend has raised a most important point. I shall be explaining in a moment why I have restricted my Bill in that way that I have.

The Home Secretary will not like my subsequent remarks, but he had better learn the truth. I believe that his Department has gained a most unwholesome reputation for complacency and indifference. It is a national scandal that the Home Office is not supporting this Bill—only not officially opposing it.

First, we were told that there were no problems. Then we were told that the problems had been exaggerated by the media and Mrs. Mary Whitehouse. Next, we were told that it would be difficult to legislate. Each defence line in turn has had to be abandoned under the sheer weight of evidence. Today, no doubt the Minister will tell us that legislation should follow the findings of the committee of inquiry under Professor Williams. That argument does not stand up for a moment and—I give the Minister credit—he knows that it does not.

The Williams Committee has a major job of work to do breathing sanity and force into our muddled and outdated laws on obscenity, indecency and violence. It had its first meeting in the autumn. I am told, from a reliable source, that it is unlikely to report for two or three years. By that time, it is highly likely that a new Government will be ramming their legislative programme through the House of Commons. We all know that there can be no guarantee of legislation. It could be four or five years before the first criminal is convicted under legislation which flows from the work of the Williams Committee.

At Question Time on 17th November the Home Secretary was agreeably robust. He gave the impression that if action were needed it would be taken in advance of the Williams Committee. Under pressure from both sides of the House, he went so far as to say of child pornography: …I have no liberality in this matter It is wrong and ought to be dealt with."—[Official Report, 17th November 1977, Vol. 939, c. 738.] The question that I ask is: why this February frost? I remind the House that the Government did not hesitate to amend the control of films by laws in matters of obscenity by Section 53 of the Criminal Law Act 1977, which came into force on 1st December last year, though the Williams Committee is charged to consider obscenity in publication and film censorship. Let it never be said that the well-paid voices of the British film industry are heard more clearly in this House than the voices of our children.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Does my hon. Friend agree that we cannot wait for the report of the Williams Committee because, in the meantime, the problem is getting worse? The police service has received, through the aegis of the Home Office, proposals that the age of consent should be reduced to 14 for both girls and boys—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—for heterosexual and homosexual behaviour, that the offence of rape should be abolished, that incest should no longer be a specifically defined criminal offence when committed between mutually consenting persons over 14 and that sections of the 1956 and 1967 Acts relating to buggery should be repealed. [HON. MEMBERS "Shame"] Those matters have been conveyed to the police by the Home Office and the police have been asked to consider and give their advice upon them. I do not allege that the Home Office is a party to those suggestions. I say only that it has asked the police to consider them. While we are waiting for Williams, the whole trend of legislation is going in the opposite direction.

Mr. Townsend

My hon. Friend has raised a most interesting hare and I am tempted to follow it, but I presume that the Minister will wish to reply to that matter.

Mr. John Loveridge (Upminster)

Is my hon. Friend aware that it may be legally possible for salacious material to be put in our public libraries for children? I recall that 20 years ago, when I was chairman of a group of public libraries, we had put before us cartoons filled with double meanings which could only be described as specific training for children in looking for double sexual meanings. We were advised that legally that material could be put in our libraries. I am happy to say that that public library committee refused to carry such stock. However, I think that it is legally possible. Indeed, I have had a complaint from a constituent that such material has been given to one of his children.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Interventions should be limited to seeking a little explanation of what is being said by the hon. Member who is addressing the House. If there are too many interventions, still fewer Members will be called.

Mr. Townsend

My hon. Friend has raised that matter with me before, and it should be considered.

I should like to turn to some aspects of this modest Bill. I regard it as a finger-in-the-dyke sort of Bill. I have resisted the temptation to put forward a measure that would deal with all aspects of the sexual exploitation of children. It must be for the Government to reconstruct the dyke and to contain the rising flood.

I have tried to produce a Bill that will not only be acceptable to the House and become law without delay, but will also protect children where they are most vulnerable.

Clause 1 is the heart of the Bill. I believe it is right that the courts should decide what is indecent rather than that Parliament should attempt to define that word too precisely.

Section 11 of the Post Office Act 1953 uses the same word. If I were pressed to say what I consider to be indecent, I would fall back on a famous legal definition of the noble Lord Reid: It includes anything which an ordinary decent man or woman would find to be shocking, disgusting and revolting". I do not think for a moment that a jury would apply those words to the sort of shot that a grandmother might take of a grandchild on a rug before the fire. Of course, I have nothing against nudity as such.

In Clause 1(1) (c) possesses with a view to production was thought more satisfactory than the one word "possesses", which is, of course, stronger. In the early drafts of this clause the words "any such" were used, tying in this subsection to Clause 1(1)(a). But on reflection I cannot find any good arguments for imposing such a restriction and one which would hamper the police.

In Clause 1(2) it will be seen that an offence is still committed if the act is in private. That is surely right when the aim is to protect children.

Clear and effective powers of seizure and destruction will be found in Clause 3.

During my studies of this subject I have been appalled by the high risks of blackmail which accompany child pornography. Both the child models and their parents are, in the opinion of many policemen, in real danger from the blackmailers.

I know many police officers feel that these powers would be of great help to them in what is a particularly difficult task. It is difficult enough catching a photographer specialising in this evil trade. When he is caught, the photographs and negatives must be seized and destroyed.

Clause 4 gives a defence that I believe will be regarded as both adequate and, above all, fair.

I do not have strong personal feelings on Clause 5, and I look forward to being guided by the wisdom of the House on this restriction. Many of my supporters feel that it is a mistake and point to the DPP's record. Legal advice has been two to one in favour on the grounds that it is traditional in Bills of this nature and that it will give some measure of uniformity. This Bill has long and sharp teeth, which are not immediately apparent, and on the whole perhaps this clause supplies balance and a filter against frivolous prosecutions.

The House will note the heavy penalties given in Clause 6. I suggest they will be effective for they will deter. They take into account the vast sums of money that I have already mentioned.

In Clause 7 it will be seen that the Bill gives protection to those under 16. It was put to me that 18 would be a more suitable age. However, I note that Britain's leading advertising agencies employ girls of 16 and over, and children are maturing much earlier. Sixteen is the age of consent and, in my view, the correct age to select.

Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)

Will my hon. Friend ask the Minister to explain why such a Bill, disregarding the merits of its contents, should not apply throughout the United Kingdom?

Mr. Townsend

I should have liked to include both Scotland and Northern Ireland but I was persuaded that to take on the legal experts of the Scottish Office and the Northern Ireland Office, as well as those too numerous to mention in the Minister's Department, might bring me a medal, but would probably bring me my defeat.

One reason for the length of the Bill is that we have attempted to build on the framework of existing English laws. May I make it crystal clear that if the House is of a mind to pass the Bill, my supporters and I will immediately press the Government to extend its provisions to Scotland and Northern Ireland?

I am only too well aware that many hon. Members are waiting to take part in the debate. Before I sit down I should like to make a brief reference to the general attitude in the Western World towards pornography, for it is foolish to consider the Bill in isolation.

For many years, perhaps a majority in Britain and in this House have given their general support to a relaxing of the laws on pornography. They felt that in the modern world people should, on the whole, be allowed to see and read what they want. They watched the experiments that Denmark was making and hoped that evidence would be forthcoming to prove that liberalisation would result in fewer sex crimes, fewer cases of rape, and fewer assaults on children.

The House should be aware of a most important recent report written by Dr. Court of Flinders University, South Australia, for its findings are highly relevant to my Bill. Using evidence from diverse contexts, the report shows an increase both in serious and more minor sex offences in those places where a liberal approach to pornography has been adopted. Court also shows that where a more restrictive policy towards pornography has been adopted there has not been the same increase in sex crimes—evidence that confounds the earlier work of Kutchinsky.

I do not feel that I need go into the effects suffered by the children who are exploited. I have spoken to a number of parents of such children and as one would suspect, the damage is considerable not only to the child but to the family. In one case that I remember the photographer had alienated the child from his parents and also blackmailed him by threatening to show photographs already taken to his headmaster.

I should like to read to the House an extract from a letter that I have received from General Brown of the Salvation Army: The Salvation Army has been greatly concerned to discover that children under the age of 16 and in some cases of very tender years have been used as models for sex orientated photography. Information reaching us both from our own sources and elsewhere supports the view that incalculable harm can be done to the child victims of this trade, to their families, and to others associated with it. He should be in a wood position to know.

The Bill is required urgently to fill a gap in the law.

Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. He has been very generous in giving way to those who wish to intervene.

Will my hon. Friend press the Government on this issue? He has the support of hon. Members in many parts of the House for the Bill, and the Government have said that they will not oppose it. Why do not the Government let the Bill go through, and in Committee try to improve any defects that there might be in it?

Mr. Townsend

I am sure that the Minister will have noted my hon. Friend's remarks.

I believe that the Bill is wanted now. I believe, too, that we have a new situation that requires new legislation. The situation will get infinitely worse if we do not act. In a historic speech to the Church of England Synod on 1st February Cardinal Hume said: …contemporary society is witnessing an unprecedented spread of pornography which divorces sexuality from human love…The most recent and distressing development has been the increasing use of children for pornographic purposes. There are apparently loopholes in our legislation. Parliament will soon be discussing proposals to prevent exploitation of children in this way. Our united Christian concern should express itself vigorously on this commercial practice which all decent people must surely regard with horror and contempt. It is no exaggeration to say that many millions of people up and down these islands are waiting anxiously to learn of our decision today. Shall we lose our way in legal labyrinths? Shall we procrastinate? Or will Parliament protect those whom we have a historic duty to protect—those who cannot protect themselves? We acted to prevent abuse of little children as chimney sweeps and in the factories. We acted to prevent their abuse in dark satanic mills and deep down in the mines. Shall we act today to prevent their abuse in child pornography?

11.55 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Brynmor John)

I intervene early in the debate, and I am afraid that, however good my intention, it will be necessary, in order to do justice to the subject, that I speak at reasonable length I hope that I shall not shut out hon. Members by so doing.

In intervening at this early stage I make it clear that the Government will do nothing to deny the Bill a Second Reading. I hope that the lion. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) who had some textural difficulty in saying that "not op-opposing" means "opposing", will now be clear about the Government's attitude to the Bill.

Let me deal also with another side wind that was introduced in a typically unscrupulous fashion by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), when he suggested that the Home Office had instituted a suggestion to the police that the age of consent should be lowered. I have to deal with that because it is instructive of what the hon. Gentleman does.

The Criminal Law Revision Committee, which is an independent body set up by this House and chaired by Lord Justice Lawton—an eminent judge, as those who know him will confirm—is conducting a review of the whole law of sexual offences with a view to codifying it. Uncertainties have been spoken about and codification of the law is what we are aiming at to get greater certainty. The committee has circulated to the police and other organisations a consultation document mentioning the various possibilities that have been canvassed by some outside bodies. The Committee is as-sited by a policy advisory committee on sexual offences, but as hon. Members will know—many of them have written to me on this subject on behalf of their constituents—I have made it clear time and again that the Government themselves have proposed no change in the age of consent. Let me dispose of that canard at the beginning.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

If the Minister will examine Hansard tomorrow he will see that I started explicitly that I do not suggest that the Home Office suggested it. The Minister has raised an important matter and the House will want to know the truth. I did not suggest that the Home Office itself was a party to this suggestion, and Hansard will prove that.

What I said to my hon. Friend was that the precise suggestions conveyed by the Home Office to the Police Federation, seeking its views, could lead to the whole trend of legislation going in the opposite direction from that which my hon. Friend wishes, while we are waiting for the Williams Committee to report.

Mr. John

I treat that intervention with the contempt that it deserves. I want to elevant the debate to a much higher level than the hon. Gentleman is ever capable of doing.

There should always be three stages by which the House of Commons considers private legislation relating to the criminal law. The first involves consideration of the question whether there is an abuse, and, if so what is its nature. The second concerns the question whether there is a need for fresh legislation—which inevitably leads us to a consideration of the extent of the present law. The third involves examination of the legislation to see how it tackles that task.

Let me deal first with the question of the abuse. Because of the way in which some people conceive it as part of their duty to guard the nation's morals by directly or indirectly denigrating Home Office Ministers—I was sorry that even the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) did it—it is necessary for me to say at the outset that my right hon. Friend and I yield to no one in our detestation of the use of children in pornography.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)


Mr. John

My hon. Friend always has something worth while to say. I shall give way to him, but I shall be grateful if he will allow me to complete my statement on the attitude of the Home Office towards this subject. It is important, in view of the statements that have been made, that I make it crystal clear.

The Home Office believes that no society should tolerate the corruption of children either for perverted sexual pleasure or, worse, the cynical desire to profit from the perversions of others. We are therefore determined to enable the law to give every reasonable assistance to the police in bringing to justice those who are guilty of these vile practices. I hope, therefore, that this statement will put on the record clearly and unambiguously our view of the subject. I am sorry that those who are calling for a higher moral tone in our nation's affairs, such as Mr. Ronald Butt, in The Times, should devote so much of their time ascribing unworthy motives to others. We are all at one in this. We differ as to means, perhaps, but not as to ends. I hope that all hon. Members will deal with the subject in that spirit.

As a Home Office Minister, I have also the duty to check the necessity for and the correctness of new legislation in this field, which, by its nature, in criminal law may affect the freedom of individuals. Too often the courts are, by well-meaning Private Members' legislation, placed in an almost impossible task by the House. It is my duty wherever possible to try to avoid that situation. It is a duty from which I will not shrink even though by so doing I may be misrepresented in some quarters.

I shall now examine the nature of the problem and the question of its coverage by the existing law.

Mr. Dan Jones

I beg my hon. Friend not to be tempted to make this a partisan issue.

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

The Minister is not doing that.

Mr. Jones

I do not ascribe any ill motive to either the Minister of State or his superior at the Home Office, but will he tell us precisely why we have been waiting for almost four years for action on this? In order to get the record straight, let the Minister understand that before that time the Conservative Home Secretary was in a similar position, but I beg him not to make any kind of partisan issue of this.

Mr. John

My hon. Friend's intervention is one of the worst that I have ever heard from him. He and I are old friends, but I must confess that if he had listened to the speech made by the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend)—

Mr. Jones

I did.

Mr. John

It is proper that I should try to defend myself and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I am trying to unite the House by saying that all hon. Members are united in detesting this matter. I hope that my hon. Friend will not feel it necessary to ascribe an un-worth motive to me in this debate.

Mr. Jones

Indeed, I do not.

Mr. John

Let me examine the nature of the problem and consider the question of its coverage by the existing law. The hon. Member for Bexleyheath asked what consultations we have had on the subject. I can tell him that over the past months we have been consulting many of the police forces in this country about the nature and the incidence of the problem, and what difficulties they find in the present law.

One of the forces that we have consulted is the Greater Manchester Police. At no time until Mr. Anderton's name appeared in the Press yesterday had we received the sort of advice from him which was attributed to the police yesterday. It is a great pity, that being so, that that advice was not tendered to us at an earlier stage. We also consulted a number of other bodies, including the West Midland force. We did that as late as yesterday.

Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)


Mr. John

I understand that hon. Members are anxious to get on the record by intervening, but if I give way to every intervention I shall still be here at 4 o'clock, and that will be taken as a devious Home Office plot to talk the Bill out.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has a special responsibility for the Metropolitan Police. Because of that, and because I believe that London probably has more experience of pornography than anywhere else, I held a meeting yesterday with the officers responsible for combating this trade. What I say now represents the consensus that we have received from the forces on this subject.

Mr. Gardner

I was trying to make a helpful intervention by asking the Minister whether he agrees that although the difficulties of creating a law to deal with this problem are formidable, they are not insuperable. Does the Minister have any reason to dispute that the Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester Police has said that 5 per cent. of hard pornography in his area in the North-West is child pornography and that it appears to be increasing?

Mr. John

When we checked with the chief constable personally, yesterday, he said that he had no hard figures to back that up. We are trying to get from him hard facts to check the position.

As for my giving way only to helpful interventions, hon. Members will have to have some sort of lighting system so that I can know which are helpful and which are unhelpful.

Let me go on to say what advice we have received as a result of our consultations. Although it is true that what is indecent to some people differs widely from what is indecent to others, there is pornography which shows children, sometimes very young children, being used sexually by adults or in sexual activity with one another. Such pornography is almost exclusively manufactured abroad. The Chief Constable of Great Manchester Police disagrees with the unknown attribution in The Times yesterday that three-quarters of the hard porn in this category is home-produced. It is not so. Our researches lead us to believe that it is almost exclusively manufactured abroad.

As it is imported, there is ample legislation to deal with it, whether it is obscene or indecent. Customs officials can and do act without hesitation to seize all such material discovered by them. Obviously, it is impossible completely to prevent it getting into the country in this way. Some of it gets through, mainly by smuggling. But where obscene material gets through we have the Obscene Publications Act as a means of dealing with it. This includes powers of seizure and forfeiture, and there is a maximum sentence of three years' imprisonment under that Act.

Mr. Neville Sandelson (Hayes and Harlington) rose

Mr. John

May I finish this point before giving way? It is a point which I believe ought to be dealt with. According to the Customs authorities and the largest police forces, the amount of such foreign-produced hard pornography in circulation is not great and does not show a rapid increase in recent times. Any Press reports to the contrary do not represent the views of the police forces in their talks with us.

This view is reinforced by the experience of the London Evening News reporter who, having believed that such hard pornography of a Scandinavian origin was freely available, was challenged by the police to find it in Soho and failed to do so. But we are not complacent about the situation.

If any hon. Member believes that this pornography is being offered for sale, he or she should report it to the police. I shall ensure that the debate is drawn to the attention of every chief constable in the country. We have adequate powers to catch this type of foreign, hard pornography now. We do not need to wait for the Bill to be put on the statute book. I shall ensure that the police energetically follow up any information given by hon. Members.

Mr. Sandelson

There is a point that is of some importance, though not directly bearing on this measure. It arises out of something that the Minister has just said about the penalty. The maximum penalty that can be imposed on indictment for smuggling quantities of hard pornographic material from abroad, whatever may be its evil content and in what-ever quantity, is a period of three years' imprisonment. Will the Minister tell the House why the penalty in that case should be a three-year term, whereas the equivalent penalty for evasion of similar prohibitions on the importation of controlled drugs is very much more—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has indicated that he is hoping to catch my eye. Surely he could make this point during the debate rather than take time up now.

Mr. John

Let me say briefly to my hon. Friend that obviously that is a matter that we shall discuss in Committee. I do not think that I should weary the House by dealing with it now.

I was about to move on from the question of foreign manufacture of hard pornography in this country. It happens all the time that there are cases which do not come to the attention of the responsible authority. They are isolated, and certainly not, according to the information I have, on a large scale. Indeed, I would point out to the House that the motivation for such pictures stems not from the motive of financial gain but is part of a process of sexual corruption, usually by homosexuals, during which more serious offences are committed against children. These are dealt with by prosecuting under more serious charges such as happened in a case last year when a number of men were convicted of a large number of serious sexual offences. The ringleader received five years' imprisonment.

The Obscene Publications Act also applies in this instance. Under the Act the possession of an obscene photographic negative for publication for gain is an offence, so that the photographer is covered by the Act just as much as the publisher or seller. I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, that obscenity has a much higher threshold than indecency. It is right to reassure people about the existing ambit of the law.

I have spoken so far about the worst filth and I hope that I have shown that both the law and its enforcement are strong. There is a range of other material, which we call soft pornography, which varies greatly in its offensiveness. This does not portray sexual activity but, in the area of child pornography, usually portrays solitary children, either nude or semi-clad, sometimes posing provocatively. I accept that this material is more widely obtainable by those who know where to look for it. But it is by no means as freely obtainable as the soft pornography involving women—the so-called "girlie" magazines which seem to be on sale at most newsagents these days. Clearly, in so far as the material is from abroad, it can be seized by Customs men as indecent. The problem is not one of law but of enforcement in respect of material of foreign manufacture. For the home-produced variety, we equally clearly have the question whether the less offensive material would be regarded as obscene. It would depend on the views of the courts.

A quantity of material of this kind has been seized by the Metropolitan Police and we are at present awaiting the decision of the courts upon it. However, seizure of the material, whether soft or hard pornography, is in my view, secondary to the aim of protecting the children. I hope that everyone will agree with that. It is as a consequence of that that I consulted the Director of Public Prosecutions with his wide, indeed unmatched, experience in dealing with and reviewing cases of this kind.

The Director emphasises that the cases where no criminal charges at all are possible are emphatically rare. Almost always circumstances permit charges to be brought, either involving serious sexual offences towards the person concerned or else involving offences under the Obscene Publications Act. I am not saying that there are no theoretical gaps in the law and this Bill may well help in plugging them up. What I do say is that in practice those gaps are very few and, practically, non-existent. Even on the case put forward by the hon. Member for Bexley-heath, and I hope that we shall reach a measure of agreement on this, the Bill will aim at dealing with the rare rather than the commonplace circumstance of pornography.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

There seems to be an unnecessary conflict entering into this debate. I am sure that the House would agree that the Government are at one with all hon. Members in wishing to deal with this problem. The Minister spoke of making comparisons with the conventional "girlie" magazines and soft child pornography. Is he aware that the promoter of the Bill and the other sponsors, including myself, have, unfortunately, inevitably had to look at some of this soft porn material? Is he aware that it is no way to be regarded, on any subjective judgment or any reasonable, objective value judgment, as being as innocuous, in the modern sense of the word, as a conventional "girlie" magazine?

Mr. John

I was trying to make a quantitative comparison dealing with how freely available soft children's pornography is. I am not saying that soft pornography involving mature women is anything like as repulsive as child pornography. I, too, have had the dubious distinction of having to look at some of these books in the course of preparing for this debate. I agree with the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) about the qualitative judgment. I was trying to make a quantitative comparison concerning how freely available this material was.

The reason why I hope we shall reach agreement on this point about the law covering the major elements and the fact that all but the rare circumstance is covered, is that, like everyone else in the House, I have received a great volume of correspondence from within my constituency and without dealing with this question. The overwhelming impression I have received is not only of the revulsion which people feel about the use of children in pornography. I have also sensed the unwritten assumption in almost all of those letters that there is no law protecting children from exploitation in this way. This is not so.

As I have said, the Government will do absolutely nothing to impede this Bill and prevent it from receiving a Second Reading and going into Committee, but we know that it will inevitably take some time to enact. What I am worried about is that if we pitch the gaps in the law too high, certainly higher than is warranted, we shall cause, in the meantime, a great number of good, decent and concerned people to have needless apprehension and anxiety on this matter.

It is the duty of the House to be quite clear and firm about the scope of the existing law as well as to project the need for changes. It is, therefore, in the spirit of encouraging a public debate on the present position and the search for something better that we welcome the detailed scrutiny which a Committee stage on this Bill would provide.

The hon. Member for Bexleyheath mentioned the role that the Home Office has taken in connection with the Bill. He implied that the Home Office had been inactive. I want to put on record publicly that we have met the hon. Member on two occasions and on one occasion with his legal adviser. Part of the letter from which we quoted was a letter which we sent making detailed and constructive suggestions about the drafting of the Bill.

Mr. Townsend

indicated assent.

Mr. John

The hon. Member is acknowledging that and, to be fair, I think he will acknowledge that the Bill's present form owes something to the constructive work of the Home Office. I am anxious to avoid irritating my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Jones) again. I am just making it clear that we have given the hon. Member for Bexleyheath reasonable help with the drafting of the Bill and we have at no stage evaded his points.

There is a duty on all Ministers of the Crown to satisfy themselves about problems that exist and not to shirk any difficulties. It may well be that the proper place to deal with the points raised by this Bill is in Committee. Let me mention three matters, one of which has already been touched on. First, the test of indecency is certainly a formula known to the law. The hon. Member for Bexleyheath has told us of his intention. That is not an objective test which will apply throughout the country. It is a subjective test which will be interpreted in different ways by different courts in different parts of the country. Clearly, we can say that indecency has a lower threshold of offence than obscenity, but just how much lower is not quite certain and will not be certain even if the Bill becomes law. Therefore, we should not in giving a Second Reading to the Bill pretend that there will be great certainty at the end of it so that everybody will know exactly what is meant.

Mr. Richard Luce (Shoreham)

The Minister of State has said—I am sure that the whole House will welcome it—that the Government will not stand in the way of the Bill. Can we also take it that when we reach the Committee stage the Minister and the Home Office will throw their weight behind advising the Committee as to how the gaps in the law can be stopped—in other words, that they will adopt a more positive approach than the hon. Gentleman has indicated so far?

Mr. John

I concede—particularly after long deputations of which the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) was one member—that gaps in the law need a definition which has so far eluded us. That was one reason why we set up the Williams Committee on Obscenity and Indecency during the proceedings on the Criminal Law Bill. We did not do that as a cover to avoid introducing legislation. It is that our concern spreads over the whole range of pornography. We do not need to give the impression from the House that it is only pornography involving children under 16 about which the House is concerned. Where there is obscenity and indecency outside that age range we desperately need a better definition than the present one. I hope that the Committee will set about its task with that in mind. This is why I say that in Committee we shall give our reasonable and constructive help. However, we shall not shirk from saying where we think that the formula in the Bill is weak. We may well be moving Government amendments to help to try to strengthen it. If the Bill is accorded a Second Reading the Government will abide by and honour the duty of all Members in Committee—that is, to seek to improve the legislation and not in a covert way strangle the principle of the Bill.

Secondly, I will deal with the power of search and seizure contained in Clause 3. This power of search and seizure is much wider than we have granted to the police in other legislation, certainly in the search for and seizure of obscene material for gain. I know that hon. Members are always concerned with the infringement of personal liberties and are certainly concerned about such powers from the civil liberties point of view. I hope that we shall discuss this question thoroughly in Committee, because it is a very important point.

Thirdly, let me highlight a problem which Clause 4 conveys, namely, that the offence created is a wide one whereas the defences allowed for in Clause 4(b) are comparatively narrow. I pose one problem which is somewhat bizarre but which nevertheless is a very real one if the Bill becomes an Act. The hon. Member for Bexleyheath has been photographed by the newspapers—quite properly—spreading these pieces of filth over his dining room table as part of the process of preparing his presentation of the Bill. However, the available defences in Clause 4(b) might not avail him in a charge brought against him under the Bill when enacted. So the ironic fact is that the hon. Gentleman might in that way technically at any rate, have infringed the provisions of his own measures. I think that it might be improved. All I am saying is that it is one of the major points we shall have to consider.

Let me sum up the Government's attitude. The Government hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading.

Mr. David Weitzman (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

I am a little troubled about the proviso in Clause 5. The House will note that under Clause 5 No proceedings shall be instituted except by or with the consent of the Director of public Prosecutions. Yet in the proviso power is given to arrest, issue a warrant for, or remand in custody any person without such a protection.

Mr. John

This is one of the points. I have mentioned three and I shall reserve the others for Committee discussion rather than discuss them on the Floor of the House.

I was about to sum up the Government's attitude. The Government hope that the Bill will get a Second Reading, but they will welcome the detailed discussion that it will receive in Committee. We are united, I hope, in the House in our detestation of child pornography. Let no one indulge in the nonsense of claiming a monopoly of moral virtue. We are all concerned about this matter. We must consider the present law as well as the Bill. Let us do our job as serious and responsible parliamentarians so that any resulting legislation will be a credit to us and a blow at the evil rather than a source of endless and continuing confusion which we consign to others to sort out.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant God-man Irvine)

It will come as no surprise to hon. Members to learn that there is a long list of speakers. I have been asked by Mr. Speaker to appeal to the House for brevity in these circumstances and to say that he would regard it as both selfish and unhelpful if hon. Members were to make lengthy speeches. He suggests that the object should be for hon. Members to indicate, in speeches lasting about five minutes, where they stand. The details can be dealt with in Committee.

12.25 p.m.

Mr. Michael Alison (Barkston Ash)

I wish to express my appreciation to the Minister of State for the positive note he has sounded. I wish also to exonerate both the Minister of State and the Home Secretary of any personal disinclination to act. I am sure that they are whole-heartedly behind us. My only fear for the Ministers—this is the occupational hazard of all Ministers—is that they will come more under the influence of their civil servants than under the influence of the House. However, they are wearing their House of Commons hats today and I think we can take it that they are fully behind the object of the Bill.

The most important point to note is the Title—Protection of Children Bill—which my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) has given to the Bill. The Bill is aimed at the protection of children in the context of pornography. We are in danger of following a false trail unless we bear the Title very closely in mind.

The false trail is that the Bill is concerned to lead us into the whole range of problems ordinarily associated with the idea and topic of pornography as such—that is, problems of definition, problems of evaluation, problems of censorship, problems of artistic freedom, literary merit, and so on.

However, that is a false trail, because there is a fundamental difference between the problems of pornography as generally conceived and the problems we are trying to face in the Bill. The difference is this. The whole range of problems with which the ordinary debate about pornography is concerned and with which the Williams Committee on Obscenity and Indecency is concerned is pornography conceived from the point of view of the consumer—the person who reads the article, the person who sees the film, the person who, unhappily, may see the poster or come across a publication. The whole emphasis in the current debate about pornography is its effect upon the consumer of the material.

The whole object and purpose of the Bill and of the House today is totally different. We are concerned not with the consumer of pornography but solely with the children used in the production of pornography. That is a fundamental and totally different point. The Obscene Publications Act is almost entirely irrelevant to what we are concerned with in the Bill.

That Act is irrelevant to this extent. If one had found a soft porn magazine—let us say the issue of "Lolita" which was on sale at Findlay's the public book stall at St. James's Park Station, the other day—and one had seen the picture of a child which it featured and regarded it as porn, and if a prosecution had been brought under the Obscene Publications Act, it is very unlikely that that magazine would have been found to be depraving or corrupting in the terms of that Act, because that Act is oriented towards the consumer. However, the soft porn effect of that magazine on the consumer which might have been entirely superficial, could at the same time have meant the absolute loss of the child—and its innocence and integrity—used in the photograph.

That is the evil at which the Bill is aimed. The Bill seeks to protect the child used in the soft porn photograph. He or she has already got on to a terrible moving escalator. From his being persuaded—perhaps almost unknowingly and unwittingly—to pose in the nude, a process is started which may lead progressively to more and more explicit poses for the child to adopt, to actual physical assault, corruption and depravity as he gets drawn increasingly into the industry. All that started with an innocent photograph—from the point of view of the Obscene Publications Act—which was not even found to be obscene within the terms of the Act, or so one might be led to believe when listening to the defence by someone such as John Mortimer. The whole publication is then allowed. Meanwhile a child has been lost, through its involvement, and it is the child supremely whom we are here seeking to protect.

I hope that we shall disabuse our minds that this matter is anything to do with the scope or adequacy of the Obscene Publications Act as such. The issue must be—and here we were deeply relieved that the Minister of State accepted that there are gaps in the law—whether the law as such is adequate so far as the child is concerned.

I can refer to only one case which caused me deep concern. That was the Court of Appeal finding of April 1977 that it was not an indecent assault under the Sexual Offences Act 1956 for a man to photograph nude boys. That Act therefore is not a fit instrument with which to bring a prosecution against a man for photographing boys or children in the nude. The quashed conviction on that case demonstrated that fact.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath has shown that the Indecency with Children Act 1960 has a serious gap in terms of the age range. It covers children only up to the age of 14. The Minister of State will appreciate that we already rule, under the sex law affecting children, that a child cannot give consent until the age of 16, so that consent by a child is not a defence for the one accused of assault. If that is the view we take of children—that they cannot be held responsible for their actions in this matter up to the age of 16—we must close the gap. It must be possible to bring a prosecution under the 1960 Act at least up to the age of 16. Moreover it is not clear that the crime of gross indecency with or against a child under that Act would cover photography.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

The hon. Member is on to a very important point. Would not the simplest way of dealing with this matter be to amend the law so that it becomes an assault to take a photograph in these circumstances?

Mr. Alison

I believe that that is precisely what my hon. Friend's Bill will succeed in doing, given Government support. It is, in fact, by focusing simply and solely on the child and on the danger to which the child is exposed in this trade that we are creating a simple and straight-forward new form of sexual offence against a child—that is, the taking of an indecent photograph of the child.

All the existing legal problems about proving a sexual assault, which are com- plicated enough where a child is concerned, are completely solved simply by the appearance of a child in what a jury might find to be an indecent pose in a photograph. That would then be held to be a case of sexual assault. From that point on all those who had taken the photograph, reproduced it, distributed it and retailed it would, under the Bill, become liable.

That is an immensely powerful instrument and we should seize it in the Bill as drafted and, with Home Office assistance, race it through the House to produce this straightforward new form of sexual assault on the child—the photographing of a child under the age of 16 indecently.

Sir Bernard Braine

We are all following my hon. Friend's speech with the closest of interest. Will he answer a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) did not deal with? Why is there a separation between the text and the photograph? Why is the text connected with a photograph, both of which are obscene, excluded from the Bill? Why cannot we deal with these matters together?

Mr. Alison

If my hon. Friend reflects on this he will notice this essential and fundamental difference, that a photograph is necessarily personalised in respect of the subject in it. The text is necessarily and invariably depersonalised, fictional, romantic and probably a figment of the imagination. It is susceptible to the Obscene Publications Act 1959 which deals with the written and published word. But the Obscene Publications Act might find a particular text to be innocuous or not liable to deprave or corrupt. It might even find the photograph of the child not, from the point of view of the consumer, depraving or corrupting. It is not, however, getting at the appalling damage which has been done to the individual child by having to appear in a soft porn photograph.

We face here a unique problem concerning the subjects or models of pornographic productions and not the objects or consumers of them. There is a real gap in the law, and I do not think that the Williams Committee is relevant to it. The Minister of State has shown a positive and helpful approach and I hope that he will enable us to get this new form of prohibition against sexual assault on to the statute book.

12.35 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Bottomley (Middlesbrough)

Mr. Speaker's wish that our contributions should be brief, concise and to the point will not be lost on me. I cannot promise to be as brief as 15 of the hon. Members who have already taken part in the debate, although I shall not be considerably longer.

Let me first stress that I would be disappointed if every time there was an emotional outburst on a point of public opinion the Home Office rushed ahead with legislation. But the content of the Bill presented by the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend)—I congratulate him on doing so—will, I think, as a result of debate and discussion, influence the Home Office to go further and to give it positive support.

I have always been a campaigner for tolerance and understanding for those whose sexual behaviour deviates from what the majority of people consider normal, but there is no possible way of condoning the use of young children to pander to warped tastes. Many people are deeply concerned about the increased exploitation of children for use in pornographic films and literature, which has been described as an insidious and revolting trend. There is no doubt that the majority feel strongly on this subject. I have received hundreds of letters from my constituents—more, in fact, than on any other subject for some time past.

In the opinion of some medical practitioners a small amount of sexual attention can make a child a psychiatric cripple for the rest of its life. A doctor in my constituency drew my attention to what an American doctor said, as reported in The Times, which was: They are destroyed by these experiences. They are emotionally and spiritually murdered. I am sure that no caring parents can hear of children being put in danger of growing up with a distorted personality and a twisted view of life. Such parents must be revolted by this.

I feel this Bill will help to protect the innocence of children from greedy porn merchants and protect their parents from the temptation of making money out of them. It will also avert a direct and immediate danger to all children, because these films and photographs are intended to stimulate adult activities with children and are published specifically for that purpose.

The provisions in the Bill for penalties for the possession or circulation of pornographic films or photographs of children are important. They will ensure that there are no advantages to be gained by those who would rob some unhappy children of their natural modesty and dignity. In this connection it is sometimes the case that the pictures which are shown are not in themselves offensive, but it is the text by which they are surrounded which gives them a depraved and obscene significance.

I hope that when the Bill goes into Committee most serious thought and discussion will result, and that in the end the Home Office will say that it will give full support to the Bill.

Several Hon. Membersrose

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I call Mr. Emlyn Williams—Mr. Hooson.

12.40 p.m.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for that flattering description. I shall try to emulate the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) and make a very short contribution to the debate.

I want to put on record that my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself in the Liberal Party hope that the Bill gets a Second Reading and goes to Committee. Having said that, let me say that I always have doubts about what I have described as reactive legislation. This history of reactive legislation passing through the House with the subsequent problems of interpretation does not lead many people to have confidence in the kind of legislation that is passed as a result of immense public pressure at a given time. The real test for the House on this Bill is whether it will be effective in achieving the objectives that its sponsors have in mind.

I take a very hard view with regard to pornography, and particularly child pornography. I was involved in a very brutal case some years ago, when I became convinced in the weeks that elapsed during the course of the case that people who have been involved in pornography as children are more likely to resort eventually to crime, because the gradual threshold of depravity, as it were, comes down steadily. Therefore, I believe that we ought to take a tough view about the involvement of children in pornography. I entirely support the objectives of the Bill.

However, the speech of the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) was less than fair to the Home Secretary and the Minister of State at the Home Office, because this is a very difficult subject indeed with which to deal. Perhaps I may give the hon. Member an example of that.

When drafting a Bill of this kind it is very difficult to avoid a definition of indecency. Even Lord Reid, when he made a semi-definition, simply said that it included various things. If one includes a definition, one is liable to get into all kinds of difficulties. If one does not have a definition, what is indecency in London may be different from what is indecency in North Wales, and what is indecency in Northern Ireland may differ from what is indecency in Glasgow.

Mr. Edward Gardner

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the word "indecency" has a good tradition behind it in statutory language, that there has been no difficulty in the Victorian statutes in prosecuting indecency, nor in the Customs legislation, and that people all over the country understand very well what is meant by indecency?

Mr. Hooson

Broadly, I think that people do understand. But there are difficulties, and I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman is well aware of them. Where there is a difficult sphere of the law, one has to legislate as best one can and leave it to the common sense of judges and juries to interpret thereafter.

Nevertheless, there are difficulties here. I am not at all satisfied that the result of Clause 1, if it is not looked at very carefully, would be to lower protection for children. My view, for what it is worth, is that the best amendment to the law that we could have had would have been an amendment that would have allowed a prosecution under the 1956 Act—that is, by declaring that the taking of a photograph in circumstances of indecency of a child under the age of 16 amounted to an assault on the child. This would have met the problem. I have not looked into this matter in sufficient depth, but I believe that this is something that should be very carefully considered by the Committee that will inquire into the matter.

I very much appreciate the speech made by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), who put his finger on the problem. What we are concerned to do in this case is simply to protect children. Every other consideration should go out of the window. We shall get into all kinds of difficulties if we regard the Bill as some way of extending the law on obscene publications, and so on. We are here solely concerned to make the Bill effective for the protection of children. If there is a gap in the law, it does not matter how we fill it, but it must be filled. Essentially, this is a Bill that must be looked at with great care in Committee.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the more the villains who exploit children can be punished and put away, the more children will, in fact, be protected?

Mr. Hooson

Certainly I accept that.

I think that the great problem is to make sure that the Bill is effective. For example, when I looked at the Bill, I thought of this kind of circumstance. Let us suppose that there was a trial of a case which was on the borderline for the jury between decency and indecency, or the borderline between whether something was indecent or not. Let us suppose that the photograph was taken by a parent and that it is argued that this was a doting parent taking a photograph but, nevertheless, that there were elements of indecency about it. We know that some parents exploit their own children for the purposes of indecency. Supposing this was so and there was a decision favourable to the defence. Would that mean a gradual whittling away and that we would have younger and younger children portrayed in indecent poses in order to get, as it were, the defence that the younger the child, the less likely the jury are to convict? That is one of the practical points that we must look at.

What is a perfectly decent photograph to a doting parent, who has photographed a nude child on a mat in front of the fire, may nevertheless be an indecent photograph to a man who has that peculiar twist of mind. These things are possible.

Mr. Alison

Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman consider that it would turn a great deal on the kind of publication in which the photograph appears?

Mr. Hooson

I accept that the surrounding circumstances are vitally important.

I was amazed to see Clause 3 drafted in such wide terms. I should be interested to know whether the Home Office suggested the clause being introduced or the sponsor. It goes very wide indeed.

Mr. John

I have already explained my concern about the width of that particular provision. That should have given the hon. and learned Gentleman a sufficient clue.

Mr. Hooson

The clause seems to extend the Bill, to extend its arms, as it were, into obscene publications. Some powers must be given under the Bill to make it effective, but nevertheless Clause 3 seems to be extending the provisions dealing with general obscenity.

I think that I have said enough to express my doubt whether the Bill will be sufficiently effective. It will need very careful consideration in Committee. Some Bills that we have passed, the Official Secrets Act, for example, have been a reaction to tremendous public pressure at the time and have given a lot of trouble since. The Immigration Acts, by and large, have all been reactions to public pressure, and all have been highly unsatisfactory. I hope that the House will be more successful with this Bill.

12.49 p.m.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)

I thank the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) for bringing forward the Bill. Already it has established that at any rate the Home Office will be involved in the preparation for the Standing Committee and has promised to give support to that Committee. That is something of substance.

I turn immediately to the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan—

Mr. Hooson


Mr. Jones

What is in a name?

Mr. John

Cardigan would think there was a lot in it.

Mr. Jones

I return to the point. If the Home Office will be assisting us, the legal advice that will be necessary will certainly be forthcoming there. I wish that the Minister of State had begun his speech in that manner because I got the impression—and I am glad that it was wrong—that we were beginning to introduce a partisan note into the debate and I, for one, would deplore that.

I am still concerned about the situation. I take refuge in arithmetic to prove that point. No one can dispute that our Government have been in office almost four years and no one can dispute that we have done a great deal about pollution one way and another, and done so successfully. I cannot help wondering why an issue of this description has been put so far back in the queue. In case some hon. Members opposite make the same point I must emphasise that in the last 10 years, in which this terrible crime against children has been developing, they, too, were in office for some four or five years. Therefore it is true that in the past 10 years both senior parties, both in Government, have chosen to put this vital issue at the back end of the queue, when I believe it should have been at the front.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

Will the hon. Member agree, however, that the tremendous problem of child pornography is relatively new and has surfaced to any extent only in these past two years?

Mr. Jones

The hon. Lady can say that it is new, but I do not necessarily agree with her. My readings are that this has been growing for about 10 years—

Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)

Even longer.

Mr. Jones

The hon. Member says "even longer". He may well be right. I wonder why no responsible Government recognised the scourge for what it was. However, this is not a partisan issue, even though it remains essentially a political one.

I think that the Minister of State could have gone a stage further than he did when he said that he would not oppose the Bill and would allow it to go forward to Standing Committee where the Home Office would offer advice. Must the Standing Committee wait for the report of the Williams Committee before getting on with its works?

Mr. John

My hon. Friend must not misinterpret everything that has been said this morning. I have said that the Williams Committee will help us on the broader definition. I did not say that we necessarily have to await the report of the committee or that the Standing Committee will have to await it. There is no power of the Government to say that a Standing Committee must do this or that. I said that the Home Office will give the Standing Committee every help in making the Bill better. I hope that my hon. Friend will not misinterpret that as well.

Mr. Jones

I am grateful to the Minister and I accept his reply. At the same time, I thought it was right to ask that question. Now that I have had an assurance I shall accept it. Obviously it is now up to the Standing Committee to work as hard and as fast as possible.

I hope that at the end of the day, despite the misgivings expressed by the legal people, this matter will not prove so intransigent in legal terms that we shall face insuperable difficulties. If that happened we would be giving an open licence to people to continue with this dirty, filthy, inhuman game.

12.54 p.m.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

I agree that we must clear up the problems about legal points and that these should not be insuperable. I am glad that there is all-party support for the Bill, because I got the distinct impression from several early interventions that there was one party alone that was concerned about this issue and that all other parties were rather indifferent to it. I am glad to have robust assurances from the Home Office, as indicated by the Minister of State.

I need not add anything to the horrifying evidence from the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), who introduced the Bill. I join in congratulating him on making such excellent use of his chance in the Ballot. It is a matter for great regret that such a Bill is still missing from the statute book, because there are certain other pieces of legislation there that I would like to see repealed.

Whatever we feel about pornography and other offences against decency, there is particular degradation and evil where children are concerned. I join with hon. Members who have pointed out that the kernel of this Bill is the protection of children.

I regret that the Bill does not apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Apart from other things, we are faced with the problem in the United Kingdom because of a cracking down in the United States, and if the Bill becomes law, as I hope, and there are restrictions in England, we do not want to see this trade flow north of the border.

Mr. John

On the point about jurisdiction, whether the Bill applies to Scotland and Northern Ireland is a matter for consideration. We shall not be obstructive on this matter. As I pointed out, the present legislation does vary considerably. However, the Northern Ireland Office is sympathetic to the extension of this measure to the Province.

Mr. Stewart

I am delighted to have that assurance. I thank the Minister for it, and I pledge the support of the Scottish National Party for the aims of the Bill.

12.57 p.m.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) on winning his place in the Ballot and introducing the Bill. I am less happy about certain aspects of the way in which he in-introduced it. I thought that at one stage he was trying to turn this into a party political issue with the aid of his hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths)—and we would expect that from the latter anyway. However I hope that the hon. Member for Bexley-heath will not indulge in this sort of Government bashing because this Bill does have the support of all parts of the House.

I was grateful to hear the Minister of State say that he will give enthusiastic help to improve the Bill where necessary. I believe, as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) said, that there are places where there could be an improvement if we want to achieve the end of protecting children. That must be the overriding factor in the Bill. Anything that we can do to improve it to that end without getting involved in any extraneous issues will be very useful.

When I first started getting letters on this subject I thought that the existing legislation was adequate. However, when I went into the matter I found that there was a gap in the law. There have been prosecutions for these offences under a variety of other Acts, some ancient and some not intended for the purpose for which the prosecution was brought. It is always bad law to bring prosecutions by way of legislation that was not intended for that purpose in the first place. It is better to have a specific Act dealing with a specific problem. That is why the Bill is useful.

On the point of detail—when the hon. Member for Bexleyheath went through a review of Press statements in support of the measure he mentioned one particular newspaper. It is interesting to see where morality has got to in this day and age. In this newspaper there was an editorial about the Bill on page 2. Opposite, on page 3, there was a half-naked woman. I am not arguing one way or the other about that, but it is an interesting reflection on newspapers today.

That brings me to the definition of indecency. The Minister has said that there are different definitions in different parts of the country. In one way, that may be right because different parts of the country have different traditions. We see this already in the action taken by various local authorities over films. My own authority has set up a censorship committee. Films that may not been seen in Southampton may be shown in other parts of the country.

What is the definition of indecency and how far can it go? Is the sort of picture that one sees on page 3 of the newspaper to which I referred earlier classified as an indecent photograph if the person concerned is under 16? I doubt whether any of those girls is under 16. Are the sort of photographs in the usual "girlie" magazines classified as indecent? There is a difficulty here.

For obvious reasons, the Bill makes an exception for scientific and learned study. I hope that we do not get into the same old arguments that we get into over the obscenity laws. Whenever a publication is taken to court, two or three professors are called to say that the work complained of is a wonderful article and should be regarded as literature while other professors are called to say the opposite. I am a little dubious about the wording in the Bill because we do not want to get into these arguments and have learned gentlemen from universities telling us that all this is good for everyone.

I hope that Clause 5 stays in the Bill. It is important that the Director of Public Prosecutions should be brought in. This clause is a safety valve that will prevent the danger of frivolous prosecutions in certain circumstances.

I agree that the Bill should be extended to Scotland and Northern Ireland, but I am not convinced that three years' imprisonment is a sufficient maximum penalty for some cases. It may be that the worst cases of exploitation of children can be prosecuted under different Acts with higher penalties. Perhaps three years is a compromise, but there have been cases, widely reported in the Press where parents have allowed their children to be exploited in various ways, and I should prefer a longer prison sentence for such offences. However, this is a matter for Committee.

I hope that the Government and the Home Office lawyers will give the Bill their full support, will help to improve the proposals and that we can get the Bill through as quickly as possible so that it becomes law in this Session.

1.3 p.m.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

The Book of books, the Bible, which I hold to be the Word of God, tells an interesting story about an Old Testament prophet to whom a distracted mother came. The prophet asked the searching and telling question: Is it well with the child? The House should keep before it the fact that we are dealing with the welfare of the child. This is not a debate on pornography per se; it is a debate on the taking of a child and the ruining of it for financial purposes so that the child's future is so twisted and warped that it is destroyed in time and eternity.

I support the Bill and I congratulate the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) on introducing it, but I regret that in parts of his speech and in some of the interventions to his speech there were implications that there was not full interest and support in all parts of the House for the objectives of the Bill. There may be differences about the best way to achieve the objectives, but I am glad to be able to say that I believe that every Member is totally committed to the objectives.

This is not a Bill dealing with pornography, about which, as hon. Members know, I have strong views. The Bill has to do with the protection of the child. The most valuable speech so far has been that by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) who put his finger on the important central point of the defence of the child.

It is to be regretted that big business, with its financial machinery, can take a child and use it for personal aggrandisement. In this area, big business must be got after by the law of the land. It is also to be regretted that the parents of children and those with children under their control can be bribed and offered large sums of money to give children to this disgraceful practice.

I welcome the fact, which I am sorry the hon. Member for Bexleyheath did not bring out, that he and his legal advisers had consultations with Home Office officials who made certain suggestions for strengthening the Bill. If this fact had been brought out at the start, the temper of the debate would have been improved. We are now getting on with a proper and considered review of the Bill and a proper debate on the matter.

I am glad that representatives of the Home Office and the Home Secretary are here. I can understand their feelings when they heard their characters being impugned by suggestions that they were not in favour of the objectives of the Bill. It is well known that I am not a supporter of the Government, but Ministers have convictions on this matter and they do not want to see children led down this dark and terrible abyss. That should be put on the record.

We could get bogged down in definitions of indecency and other matters. I have taken a careful interest in this subject in Northern Ireland and have discovered that various magistrates make different rulings on certain publications and it is hard to define the exact meaning of different legal terms in connection with the operation of various Acts of Parliament.

I hope that the Bill will reach the statute book, and I am delighted that the Home Office will not hinder it and will be helpful in suggesting ways of strengthening it. I hope that consideration will also be given to reviewing wider aspect of the law on pornography that also need attention.

I am delighted that the Northern Ireland Office is interested in this matter and has gone on the record, through the Home Office Minister, as saying that it is prepared to follow this legislation in Northern Ireland. I join the leader of the Scottish National Party in hoping that it will also be extended to Scotland. I would not like to think that the Bill could pass this House and result in Northern Ireland and Scotland becoming the happy hunting ground of those who have been outlawed in the rest of the United Kingdom.

1.8 p.m.

Sir Thomas Williams (Warrington)

I intervene for three reasons. In the interests of the welfare of the rest of the House, I shall make a short speech and abandon much of the eloquence that I would otherwise have indulged in.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend). In general, as I have told him in correspondence, I support the Bill.

In common with the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), it appeared to me that the recent judgment of the Court of Appeal revealed a lacuna in the law that urgently needed attention. When we have a situation in which the distinguished Court of Appeal says that there is no remedy for what, on the face of it, appears to be a manifest abuse, it must be a challenge to this House to deal with that abuse.

On the other hand, having pledged my support to the hon. Member for Bexley-heath at the outset of his activities on this Bill, I nevertheless regretted the way in which he introduced the Bill. I became anxious lest a good deal of mutual recrimination would arise as a result of that introduction and some of the interventions that were made by his hon. Friends, which seemed to me sometimes to be less than honourable.

There is no monopoly of concern in this House about the welfare of our children. As the House knows, I am a committed Christian and I have taken a serious view not only of this matter but of wider matters involving pornography, indecency and obscenity. I accept completely the Lord's dictum that whoso shall offend one of these little ones it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea". I believe—and I admit my prejudice in this respect—that the gradual development of the permissive society has resulted in a steady movement to a state in which eventually such a practice and trade as this has become big business in many parts of the world.

It seems to me that the strongest protection of our children as well as of our society lies in strong religious faith, and in this respect, as St. Paul put it, I would wish that: Except for my faults, others were as I was". On the other hand, I acknowledge that there are those who do not share my religious belief and those who have no religious views but who, nevertheless, are, as the House has shown itself today, deeply concerned about the way in which an abuse exists for which, as I believe, there is now apparently no remedy in the law. The judgment of the Court of Appeal makes it plain that some other way must be found by which children involved in this trade were given the protection which the law did not provide.

I understand the problem with which a great Department of State is faced, and the problems that face the Minister even when he expresses deep concern about the matter. He is bound to be concerned whether reactive legislation of this kind is the best way of dealing with the situation. I feel, however, that when the Williams Committee does report it will not report relevantly on the problem with which we are faced in the Bill. This is not primarily a problem of pornography; it is a problem, as the Bill rightly puts the matter, relating to the protection of children.

It seems to me that the Bill is in danger of falling between two stools. In one context it seeks to do too much and in another it falls short of the job which it has particularly set itself to do. When I say that it tries to do too much, I have regard to Clause 3, which seems to be trying to enter into a field in which the Bill does not properly belong. It attempts to deal with the question of pornography at large and with matters on which it might be better to be more restrictive.

I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) and would really prefer to have a Bill that attacks on a much narrower front, and that concerns itself with filling the specific gap in the law in dealing with the taking of photographs in circumstances of indecency. I feel that that would direct the minds of the judiciary and the jury to the matter with which we are concerned, namely, the fact that whatever the effect of the publication may be on those who read or enjoy it, intrinsic damage may be done to those who take part in these activities. Children are too vulnerable and too innocent in any connection with what may be regarded as soft porn, in which they are often involved as the object of the camera lens.

At the same time the Bill to some extent sets its sights too narrowly. First, there is a failure of definition. Courts in the past, despite suggestions which have been made to them that there is no real problem of definition, have been bogged down desperately by indecisiveness and a lack of definition of the word "indecency". In my judgment an attempt must be made in Committee to clarify and make more specific the offence of indecency, which the Bill too easily passes over.

The other aspect of the matter which is of some concern to me but with which the Bill does not concern itself is the question of parental responsibility. Recent newspaper reports underline the fact that among the culpable persons in this vicious and depraved trade are sometimes the parents of the children involved. It is surely desirable that when the matter goes to Committee the subject of parental responsibility and the apportioning of some responsibility in law in the commission of an offence should be dealt with, particularly where there is active participation by parents or neglect by parents of children caught in this trade.

I hope that I have not abused the undertaking I gave to be brief. I welcome the Bill, I am glad that it is to be given a Second Reading without opposition in this House, but I hope that I have said sufficient to show in my judgment that the matter will need careful consideration in Committee.

1.18 p.m.

Sir William Elliott (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

I undertake to obey Mr. Speaker's appeal at the beginning of the debate, and I shall jettison a great deal of the material I intended to use because it is obvious that many hon. Members still wish to take part in the debate.

I wish to refer to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Sir T. Williams). Of course there is no monopoly of concern on one side or other of the House when we are considering the use of children for pornographic purposes. I believe that this debate has been most valuable. I, too would like very much indeed to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) on having presented the Bill in such a way.

I also wish to suggest that the need for this Bill is even more urgent because of a recent High Court decision. I wish the Bill every possible success and a speedy passage to the statute book.

The trouble is that there is a feeling in the public's mind that not enough is being done about pornography in general. We recognise that this Bill seeks to deal with a specific aspect of pornography, which I believe it will achieve very well, with Government assistance. Pornography concerns the public a great deal. We have all received masses of letters since my hon. Friend produced his Bill—indeed, since he announced his intention of producing it. Practically every letter I have received has referred to the problem in general. We have too much pornography in this country.

This morning we have heard definitions of hard pornography and soft porno graphy. We have seen in recent years the emergence of what has been called the permissive society. In the opinion of many parents—I am a parent of teenage children—it is far too permissive. We have had a steady growth of pornography. Twenty years ago the bookstalls of our country were not the disgusting sight that they are today. When one thinks of indecent advertising, there is little to choose between the notorious 42nd Street in New York and Soho. It is almost impossible to find a cinema in Newcastle upon Tyne that is not showing an X film. Pornography has been far too much on the increase.

We know the terms of reference of the Williams Committee and recognise that the Committee's task is not easy. The Government will rightly have asked the Committee to take care before making its recommendations, but it is somewhat distressing to read in the Press that it will probably be at least two years before it reports. The public are demanding quicker action. This can be achieved to an important degree by Government acceptance of this Bill and not merely approval in principle.

I hope that in Committee the Bill will have every possible assistance from the Secretary of State, the other Home Office Ministers and the Home Office in general. I wish my hon. Friend and his Bill every success.

1.23 p.m.

Mr. David Young (Bolton, East):

It has been said a number of times in the debate, and I must repeat, that there is no monopoly of concern on this issue in the House. All hon. Members, of whatever party, can come together with Christian conscience to support each other on certain matters about which we rightly feel strongly. We must stop being ashamed about, or apologising for, taking the lead on certain matters.

We are sometimes in danger of confusing liberalism with licence. A time comes when Members of this great and honoured House recognise their responsibility not only to their electors but to all those who, through age or infirmity, cannot look after themselves. I think this to be our duty as Christians and as Members of Parliament. I apologise to no man for that.

However, I am a little worried about the moralising that has gone on in certain national newspapers. When I read some of the editorials I often feel like saying of the editor "There but for the grace of God goes God". It is all too easy to lay down criteria and to apportion blame.

We must be very careful not to get an essential principle confused with a legal argument. There is a strong feeling in Bolton, East and throughout the country that enough is enough. We want legislation, and we want it now, to stop what is going on.

I believe that it has been said in the debate that we are dealing not with a large number of cases but with only a very few. However, if one child is corrupted, one is too many. It is our task to look at not only generalities but individuals, to look at the children themselves. With this in mind, I fully support the Bill. I appreciate the commitment by the Home Office to give it every help in its passage through the House. We want to see the best Bill that can come out as quickly as possible to deal with the present situation.

Reference has been made to the Press being in touch with chief constables throughout the country. I may have misheard, but I gained the impression that the Home Office was not aware of information for which it had itself asked and which was apparently attributed to certain senior police officers. If I heard correctly, I hope that the Home Office will seek clarification both from the officers concerned and from the Press, because it is not my job to attribute statements.

I was very much struck by a statement in The Times on 9th February, attributed to the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, that last year 162,000 publications valued at almost £500,000 had been seized. If that is so, I do not think that we are dealing with a sporadic problem. It is one that we must treat as a matter of urgency.

I wish next to refer briefly to a matter that I have not heard mentioned a great deal in this debate. We are basically concerned with the protection of the child and his use by the photographers referred to in the Bill. A question asked on 15th December last year gave an indication where this could lead. Para- phrased, it asked how many police prosecutions there had been for this type of crime. I took the implication to be that it was not only the direct offence itself but other offences stemming from it that mattered as well.

My newspaper, the Bolton Evening News, on Tuesday 7th February had the headline: Sex man lures girl of 12 related to a physical sexual assault. I do not believe that the protection of children is confined to one sphere. We wish to attack the separate facets of the problem with all the powers we can muster.

I address my final remarks to the Home Office, which has kindly indicated that when the Bill is carried through Parliament, as it will be, it will support anything that can be done to see that it affects Scotland and Northern Ireland as well. Each and every one of us in this House does not want a situation in which we create some form of pornographic haven in any part of the United Kingdom. May I have an assurance from the Home Office not only that it will help but that it will positively approach its colleagues responsible for the law in both Scotland and Northern Ireland so that a draft can be arranged that will cover the whole of the United Kingdom.

I hope that I have not intruded unduly on the time of the House, as I have sought to avoid in every other intervention that I have made in this Session. But it would be wrong to sit down without again reiterating that this is an issue about which every right-thinking man and woman—whether parent or not, constituent or not—is concerned.

It is our duty to see how quickly and effectively we can pass the laws necessary to deal with the case that has been so ably put today.

1.31 p.m.

Mr. Charles Irving (Cheltenham)

I welcome this Bill, which is necessary both to fill a gap in the law and to protect children from sexual exploitation. It is true that, under the present law, producing the worst and most hard-core types of child pornography would clearly involve committing sexual offences, or offences of indecency, against the children concerned. Moreover, such material would certainly be found obscene by magistrates or by a jury.

It is only fair to pay tribute to the Home Secretary for setting up the Williams Committee. Its report will be eagerly awaited. But this Bill seeks to end a national scandal now. I hope that nothing will delay its implementation.

It is strange that a country can on the one hand have a law which makes consenting homosexual relations between a man and another man of 18 illegal and imprisonable—and, indeed, a law which quite clearly makes soliciting an adult for the purposes of prostitution illegal and imprisonable—yet on the other hand have no law which clearly prevents the exploitation of children in this degrading way.

In my view, that is a much more serious offence. It is worth bearing in mind that the boys and girls who become caught up in this kind of activity may also be in serious danger of becoming involved in child prostitution of a kind highlighted in Yorkshire TV's excellent documentary about homeless young people at risk—"Johnny Go Home". There is some evidence that the unscrupulous men behind the one activity are often either the same people as, or at any rate are clearly connected with, those responsible for the other. In my view, in certain circumstances parents have an equal, and in some cases a criminal, responsibility for not exercising more supervision and taking greater care of their young children.

We should consider the proposed penalties in this Bill very carefully to see how far they are likely to fulfil the purpose of putting a stop to the activities of the producers of child pornography The maximum fine proposed in the Bill is £10,000. That is a large amount in absolute terms, but it is an amount which may not be prohibitive to people involved in such a highly lucrative activity.

According to The Daily Telegraph of 1st September, the retail value of hard-core pornography smuggled into Britain from Scandinavia, Germany and Holland is now approaching—possibly over—£24 million a year. My criticism of the Bill is modest, but I certainly feel that the proposed penalties are totally inadequate. The likely effectiveness of the fines proposed is crucial to the chances of the Bill succeeding in its aims, since the primary motive behind these activities is mainly financial. The most effective way of penalising those involved in this trade is likely to be fines which are potentially so severe that they make the risks of the activity not worth the possible financial gains.

If we impose fines that are too low this could easily be regarded by the purveyors of child pornography as merely a form of tax, or perhaps an occupational hazard, which will not put them out of business but merely reduce their profit margins or increase the price of this filth. The Bill should be amended in Committee to allow for an unlimited fine to be imposed, or if that is not acceptable, a maximum fine of at least £100,000. After all, the Obscene Publication Acts of 1959 and 1964 provided for an unlimited fine. Surely the production and sale of material involving the exploitation of children should not be regarded as less serious than producing publications which, although obscene, at least, use adult models who are more likely to understand the full implications of what they are doing.

Like other hon. Members I have curtailed a number of points because of the shortage of time. But I welcome this Bill most sincerely and I hope that it will go to Committee.

Several hon. Membersrose

Mr. Speaker

I thank hon. Members for the way in which they are co-operating. If we continue in this way it will be possible to call everyone who hopes to catch my eye, but only if we continue in this way.

1.37 p.m.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Coventry, South-West)

Like other hon. Members, I am aware that there is no monopoly of concern for children, not only in a party sense but in a religious sense. I detected a certain tendency to imply that there is, in fact, a religious monopoly, but ethical and moral standards are not confined to those who profess religious views.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) suggested that reactive legislation is usually bad legislation, but I think he is mistaken and that there is no such general rule. I had occasion to check some legislation which was certainly reactive, in that it arose from horrific events and public reaction to those events, but which was very good legislation.

I should not like to assume a general rule that reactive legislation is always going to be bad. The particular legislation I am reminded of concerns safety and pollution, and in both those senses I think this has some relevance to our debate today.

After the "Torrey Canyon" disaster there was good legislation with regard to pollution at sea, and after the Aberfan disaster there was good strengthening of our safety legislation. We do not need to be too worried that there is something wrong in responding to some of the shock that has perhaps been occasioned by articles, such as the one in The Sunday Times mentioned by the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) which certainly gave me cause for considerable reflection.

I agree that the Bill is about the protection of the child, and not pornography as such, but I think that in discussions on pornography too much emphasis is placed on the consumer aspect and not enough on the work situation involved. There is a degree of exploitation for gain which is intolerable and needs to be rooted out at source, in respect of adult pornography, too. But that is very complex, and there are other questions, such as balancing liberty with the need for high moral standards.

The matter is simpler in terms of children. The difficulty about the definition of "indecency" can be over-emphasised. It should not be difficult to have a general consensus about what is indecent when children are involved. Anything that is likely to impair the natural development of a child's sexuality and to impose on it a degree of precociousness or false development is covered by the Bill. That clearly precludes the baby on the mat or children on beaches. Indeed, the hon. Member for Bexleyheath said that he was not talking about nudity as such. Nudity is not necessarily sexual in context.

I suggest that we should not make heavy weather of the difficulties of defining indecency. If we try to define it too narrowly, we may get ourselves into a mess, for we cannot possibly hope to cover every eventuality. Therefore, I should like to keep a fairly wide definition.

This is not a civil liberty issue. I do not think that those of us who feel that what adults do willingly in private in pursuit of their own sexual tastes is their own affairs would consider that that has any relevance to what adults do with children. I stress that in general this is a matter of exploitation for gain. It does not arise from the "permissive society". I am never quite sure what that phrase means. I think that this problem arises from an exploitative, greedy society, in which private profit is supreme. Those of us who are concerned about civil liberties should have no problem in giving wholehearted support to the Bill.

I should like to mention two matters of detail. I was pleased to see, in Clause 1(4), that if there is an implication in a caption or an accompanying text that someone is under 16, it will be no defence to say that it was a con and that the person concerned was actually over 16. If the representation purports to show that someone is under 16, then, for the purposes of the court, that person is under 16. That is a wise provision.

I should also like to see a clear provision in the Bill, or at any stage in expressions in the House, that it should not be a defence to say that the photographer thought that the young person involved was 16. If that is to be a defence, it will effectively lower the age involved. It is always possible to say of a 14-year-old or a 15-year-old "I thought that he or she was 16". That is especially so with girls. I believe that the onus should be on the person producing the material to prove that a child is 16 before engaging in the activity. I hope that people will not engage in the kind of activity that the Bill seeks to prevent, even at 16, but, unless it is clear that it is no defence to say "I thought that he or she was 16", the Bill will in practice be about 14-year-olds or even 13-year-olds, because that would be a favourite defence. This is an important matter, and, since we live in an age when birth certificates are freely available, they should be used.

Finally, I turn to the question of written text. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Bexleyheath has concentrated on photographic and film material. That is the area in which there is exploitation of the child. This is quite different from written material. People may express in writing all kinds of unhealthy fantasies, but that is beside the point. If there is no child participant, the material should not come within the purview of a Bill such as this. The hon. Gentleman was right to point out that censorship of written material is outside his intention. Our intention must be to protect all children who may be persuaded, pressed or compelled to participate in these activities in photographs and on film.

I wholeheartedly support the Bill.

1.47 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)

I shall try to be brief. Therefore, I shall not follow the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) in what she said, but I am glad that she supports the Bill.

I believe that the House and the country should be indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) for introducing the Bill and for the hard work that he has obviously done on it.

I am certainly no Puritan—indeed, I always look with some degree of suspicion upon censorship—but the filthy trade that is the subject of the Bill goes well beyond anything that can conceivably be tolerated in what is called a civilised society. The mind boggles at the mentality of the people who have anything to do with such muck. Whether they be furtive voyeurs, photographers, business men, printers, transporters or retailers of this material, it is difficult to understand their mentality.

The voyeurs and perverts will always, alas, be with us. So, too, will the publicity-seeking freaks, such as the ex-secretary of the Paedophile Information Exchange, so rightly sacked, and all his crackpots. But many other people—business men, employers and employees—who otherwise conduct normal and respectable lives become involved in advancing this particularly obnoxious activity, because, to quote an old saying "Where there's muck, there's brass".

If I read Clause 7 aright, I think that the Bill is comprehensive enough to capture those engaged on the fringe of the trade. All too often we have heard business men—whether retailers or others—say "I was engaging in the normal business activity. I did not know about all this." They are somewhat akin to those who went on trial for Nazi war crimes and who said "I was acting under orders from someone else. It was not for me to question those orders."

No one believes in the freedom of trade and free enterprise more than I do. However, to use another famous phrase, I believe that some of these activities represent the "unacceptable face of capitalism". I hope that the chambers of trade and of commerce, the trade associations, and certainly the film industry, all of which are very concerned about this matter, will use their best endeavours to see that their members do not get entangled in this kind of activity and will support the Bill.

No Act of Parliament can legislate for activities overseas, and much of the problem is international. It is horrifying to see the amount of this filth that is being generated in the United States. I heard the statistics given by my hon. Friend, and I was appalled to read that some of these journals involve little girls aged 3. Unless we are very strict, that sort of thing will come to this country. I know that Customs and Excise will do their best, but the Minister should have discussions with his colleagues in other Departments to see whether action can be taken in other forums to bring about some international control of this business, in the way that we do with other forms of pollution.

I appreciate the reasons for the questions that have been asked about Clause 3 and these will no doubt be considered in Committee. I hope that the Committee will not be too soft and wishy-washy about giving adequate powers of seizure to those who have to enforce the law. It should consider what is proposed, but it should not hamstring those who will have to operate these provisions. It should give them solid powers, because that is what the public want.

I am worried about the defence in Clause 4 (b) because I am not clear what is "learned study". It could cover a multitude of sins. There are in circulation in this country at least two undoubtedly thoroughly pornographic journals which dress up their activities in a pompous fashion and use intellectual phrases, but that is a front for appealing to the worst sort of mentality. Forum is a journal which pretends to be superior and intellectual, but it is nothing more than plain pornography.

I believe that the penalties proposed in the Bill are inadequate and I hope that the Committee will increase them, or perhaps even make them unlimited. Is the offence described by the Bill less severe than breaching the exchange control provisions? I brought in the Oil in Navigable Waters Bill, and we had to increase the penalty. Is the pollution of the minds and lives of children less important than the pollution of our coasts? Let us consider the penalties in Committee and see whether we can increase them.

I accept that the Minister and the Home Secretary are just as opposed as I am to this trade. I was glad of the reassurance that they will do their best, but if there has been any shilly-shallying the fault lies with the Department, because that is the impression that it has given. I wonder whether, if my hon. Friend had not had the good luck and good sense to bring in this measure, things would not have continued as before. We have now had an assurance from the Government.

I believe that the Bill should be given a Second Reading. In Committee it will need all the help that it can get from the Government and their business managers to see that what is done coincides with the wish of the people, which is that this measure should get on to the statute book at as early a date as possible and that we should do something to introduce incisive surgery to deal with the evil cancer that is affecting our whole society.

1.52 p.m.

Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)

The tenor of the debate has been transformed during the past hour or so. I think that this is due in some measure to the powerful speech of my hon. Friend the Minister of State. I think that my hon. Friend reassured the House, because he realised, as the hon. Member for Bexley-heath (Mr. Townsend) did, that when a measure of this sort is introduced, people are bound to conclude that all is not well. In many respects that is profoundly true, but the situation outlined by my hon. Friend shows that in many respects the existing law is satisfactory.

The hon. Member for Bexleyheath rightly said that most of this pernicious material and the exploitation of children came from the United States. He said that President Carter had recognised that fact and was recommending legislation to Congress on the matter. I think that the whole debate has turned on the material coming from the United States. To the best of my knowledge—perhaps my hon. Friend can confirm this—there has not been one prosecution in this country for offences of this kind. It is clear that the material is coming mainly from the United States.

It is not merely a question whether our own legislation is sufficient to deal with this problem. It is a Foreign Office matter, too, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Bexleyheath. At the Review Conference on Security and Co-operation the whole question of the behaviour of States is under review, and the Russians never miss an opportunity to point to the inconsistencies of human rights in Western society. This is a matter on which they go ahead full blast. They constantly refer in broadcasts and speeches to pornography in the West, and we know that they are right.

The pornography industry is massive. As the hon. Member for Bexleyheath said, it is the soft porn operators upon whom the whole edifice basically rests. It is no surprise to me that in consultation with the various people advising the hon. Gentleman about the Bill the soft porn operators were the ones who wanted to distance themselves the most from this kind of excessive pornography. I should be hesitant about accepting their advice on anything. There is no doubt that they have much to answer for in this respect.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned a number of newspapers. He instanced The Sun, but there is another newspaper which in my view, lowers the tone of the discussion of this subject every Sunday, and that is the News of the World. Its whole approach to these matters is to adopt a high moral attitude in its editorials, but when it comes to reporting, as it will no doubt do with the hon Gentleman's speech, it will draw attention in photographs to all the lurid details in order to encourage a greater readership. In a matter of this sort, in which the Bill is basically about the pernicious exploitation of the young, one cannot avoid the wider debate on pornography itself. However, I know that there is not time in this debate to do that, and I think that the hon. Gentleman has done a great service to the House by introducing his Bill.

I have known the hon. Gentleman since he became a Member of the House, and I know that as a person he is a balanced Member. His views on a number of issues very often coincide with my own, but I was disappointed at the tone and tenor of his speech. I think that perhaps it was as much to do with nervousness of the occasion as anything else, but some of his remarks gave an impression which was exploited by some of his hon. Friends. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) and the hon. Member for Upminster (Mr. Loveridge) both made damaging interventions which were possible only because the speech of the hon. Member for Bexleyheath lacked sensitivity.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind my saying this. If he wishes to get the Bill through as quickly as possible with the support of my hon. Friends he must choose his language with great care. His choice of language seemed to show that he was trying, in a sense, to exploit a certain party difference. On a matter of this sort that kind of thing must be greatly regretted.

1.59 p.m.

Mr. R. A. McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

I have always taken a fairly liberal view about what adults may do and see in private, but that thought has always been qualified by three provisos: first, that it should not offend the obscenity laws; secondly, that no display of what is available for people to see should offend others who do not wish to see it; thirdly, and perhaps most important of all, that children should be protected from forced introduction to pornography by not having it displayed in places where children are known to congregate.

Even if literature catering for the most bizarre of sexual tastes is available for adults, I contend that society has a duty to prevent children from being catapulted into such a subculture, because it would be intolerable to encourage children to believe that the aberrations of sexual conduct around which some pornography revolves are normal, natural and inevitable. It may be that some children will eventually find their way into what I shall call the highways and byways of sex, but to push them into it by irresistible displays is something against which we must set our faces.

If all this is so, how much more should we oppose the actual appearance of children in books and films which are being made for the gratification of abnormal sexual appetites, the practice of which may to the impressionable male or female become accepted as normal? We should stand condemned if we did not at least allow young minds to reach their own decisions on the acceptability or otherwise of practices in which, at the moment, they may be encouraged to indulge for the gratification of adult appetites.

A society that violates its youth is a decadent society, unredeemed by any justification other than that these practices must be seen alongside other aspects of obscenity. This, in my judgment, is the nub of the matter that we are considering today—not that these practices are desirable, which all would agree is not so, but whether they are so reprehensible as to justify separate action along the lines of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend).

I think that they are. I think, what is more, that material of this sort produced in the United Kingdom constitutes a sufficiently large part of the market that it is impossible to turn a blind eye to it.

You have asked us to restrict our remarks, Mr. Speaker, so I shall be very brief. There is a special case for the Bill, for a number of reasons. First, I think that the police would welcome the Bill being put on the statute book Secondly, a civilised society would consider it timely to introduce such a measure. Thirdly, Parliament would stand condemned if it did not approve it.

Some people use bribery of the most basic type to induce children to appear in the pornographic films and books to which we are turning our attention. Some parents unforgivably seek financial gain from allowing their children to perform in these films. I concede what my hon, Friend the Member for Bexleyheath said earlier, that for the most part one finds that children who appear in this type of literature and film are predominantly from single-parent families. Therefore, perhaps the House is challenged to an even greater extent that we may have appreciated to protect that sort of young person.

I believe that the House welcomes the initiative taken by my hon. Friend. The Bill can no doubt be improved in detail in Committee, but Parliament has a duty to defend the children around whom the legislation revolves.

2.4 p.m.

Mr. George Rodgers (Chorley)

Until today, I have always experienced a sense of privilege and a sense of pleasure in being able to address the House. I find it difficult today to feel anything but distaste in focusing attention on this subject. Child pornography is a subject from which many of us, understandably, prefer to avert our minds. It is to the lasting credit of the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) that he has taken this opportunity, through his Private Member's Bill, to take the wretched subject by the throat and shake it vigorously and publicly.

The purpose of the Bill is to stop up the loopholes in the laws which are designed to protect children from abuse. It is apparent that the measure has generated wide support inside and outside the Chamber. The opening words of the Bill carry, for me at least, a deep appeal. They read: A Bill to prevent the exploitation of children. I find that immensely heart-warming.

Throughout my years of political activity, I have endeavoured to resist exploitation wherever it might be found, whether it be the exploitation of working people, of our women folk, or of the immigrant communities. I believe that we have a special responsibility towards our children who, by definition, are entitled to the care and respect of their elders.

It is this common concern, this desire to shield our children, that has today created an alliance across the Chamber. There is surely a mutual revulsion that merchants in search of gain, or individuals seeking gratification for peculiar appetites, should seek to abuse and exploit those who are exposed simply because they are young children.

I am convinced that the only way to deal with this ghastly and growing menace is to strengthen the law, and at the same time to remind those who administer the law that there is already a variety of penalties which may be applied and which are not always applied, even in present circumstances. The penalties should be imposed to demonstrate that we are prepared to combat these activities that are totally repugnant to the overwhelming number of people in this country.

There is abundant evidence that children who have been ensnared into the service of those who deal in pornography have endured unending misery. Participation brings emotional suffering. If the activity is indulged in over a period of time, it destroys sensitivity in the child. From the records that are available in the United States, it is apparent that the child so exploited can become utterly depraved and unstable as a consequence of falling into the hands of evil people.

If a child were to be beaten unmercifully by an adult and the injuries could plainly be seen, there is little doubt that the law and public opinion would insist that the culprit was appropriately punished. The impact of involvement with the purveyors of pornography might not be so apparent, but the hidden injuries to the unfortunate youngster are long-term and devastating.

It has been suggested that the present law is adequate to meet the situation that is causing such widespread anxiety and that the Williams Committee on obscenity laws and film censorship will make suitable recommendations when it eventually reports. It is said that, anyway, the Home Secretary will act in advance of the publication of the report if he feels it necessary.

Perhaps the theory that current legislation can cope, and the existence and role of the Williams Committee are somewhat contradictory. I believe that the Bill will tighten the law very effectively and remove any doubts about the adequacy of protection for young people, especially those between the ages of 14 and 16. However, there is an area of greyness and doubt about the area of protection for that age group.

In fairness, we must make it clear that British laws on obscenity are already more rigorous than those in nearly every other Western nation, and certainly tougher than those on the Continent. I emphasise this because, understandably, the enthusiasm that has been generated for the Protection of Children Bill has tended to conceal that fact. It may have given the impression to the public at large that there is no substantial protection available to children who are at risk at the hands of unscrupulous people. That is not the case.

In a strange sort of way the strength of the law in the United Kingdom for combating obscenity in this country has brought about the problem of a flood of indecent material being smuggled into this country. This arises from the fact that the more extreme examples of child pornography have been produced abroad, especially in Germany and Scandinavia, without or with seemingly little risk of prosecution. We reach the position whereby the more vigorous and effective are the efforts to abolish this grubby business in our own country the greater is the stimulus for the muck to be legally imported from less fastidious nations.

We must look upon the Bill as one prong in a pincer movement. The other prong must comprise a strengthening of the Customs and Excise so that it can arrest the flow—a massive flow by all accounts—of child pornography into this country from abroad. If this means an increase in public expenditure so be it. Our concern must not be just to protect our children, provided that the cost is not too great. In any case, it would surely be an appalling attitude if we permitted the unhealthy desire of people in this country to be accommodated by the shameful and scandalous abuse of children in another country.

The propositions we are dealing with today, however virtuous, will not affect the sleazy smuggling racket that feeds the market in the United Kingdom. The Bill is necessary for dealing effectively with one aspect. Action must follow to prevent the illicit importation of obscenity. Only by demonstrating our deter- mination completely to destroy the trade shall we defeat this squalid business that feeds off young children. It is estimated that at present pornography imported into this country is valued at £24 million annually.

I should like to make my purpose in supporting the Bill crystal clear. It has nothing to do with Mrs. Whitehouse or the so-called Festival of Light. The people associated with that organisation often seem to confuse sex and sin and to confuse both with law and order. I am bitterly opposed to the exploitation of children. Over the years enlightened people have campaigned against a system which sent small children up chimneys, which had youngsters working down the mines at the age of eight or working in the textile industry. The proposals before us today are a continuation, an extension, of that crusade for decency.

I am sure that the vast majority of hon. Members warmly welcome the Bill, which is worthy, worth while and workmanlike. I wish it a fair wind and a speedy passage. For my part, I am proud to have been associated with its presentation.

2.12 p.m.

Mr. Robert Hicks (Bodmin)

The whole House will be reassured by the Minister's earlier statement in response to the initiative taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) in bringing forward this Bill. I wish that the earlier publicity and statements that came from the Home Office had been a little more positive. Then, perhaps, misinterpretations would not have occurred. The earlier indications were that the Home Office response at best would be neutral and at worst actually negative. However, we have all been reassured by the Minister's statement this morning.

On this occasion I wish my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath every good fortune in his second attempt to get a Private Member's Bill on the statute book. His choice of subject reflects a widespread public concern. In the seven years that I have been a Member of this House I can recall only one previous occasion on which I have had as many letters and petitions on a social issue. The previous occasion had to do with the Abortion (Amendment) Bill in 1971.

I appreciate that there are widely differing attitudes towards pornography generally. On the other hand, no one in the House dissents from the proposition that children should not be involved at any stage, since they are specially vulnerable and are not able fully to realise what they are doing or consent to what they do when involved in this despicable activity. At times I find difficulty in defining my attitude towards those areas and instances where legislation should be introduced to protect people against themselves and their own actions. This is very much a grey area, as has been suggested. In terms of the exploitation of children I find myself in no such difficulty.

I recognise that there are certain difficulties inherent in formalising any social legislation—in getting it right in detail so that it achieves what we wish. This is not an easy task, because there is always the danger of this House overreacting. I would be wary of a situation in which we began to enact legislation in response to the volume of mail or the pressure put upon us at any one time. I do not think that today we should be distracted by this legalistic argument. There is evidence not only that the general public is concerned about this issue but that many people concerned with child welfare and the police believe that child pornography is a problem that may be increasing.

We have only to look across the Atlantic Ocean to see a similar experience in the United States of America. Parliament has a responsibility to give a lead and try to prevent a similar trend intensifying here. In so doing we are responding to public opinion. I am pleased that the Government have made it known that they will take a positive attitude to the Bill, both today and in Committee. They are right not to try to hide behind the Williams Committee, as was hinted earlier. There is the problem of the time scale. It would be four or five years before any action could be taken as a result of that committee's report. That would be far too long.

Immediate action is necessary. There is no denying the existence of child pornography. I accept that it is difficult to quantify the extent of the problem. There is no doubt but that existing legislation is inadequate. The Minister acknowledged this is his speech when he said that the Bill could help to plug some gaps, particularly in respect of the 14–16 age band. The Bill's provisions are a step in the right direction. It should be an offence to be involved at any stage in the production and purveying of indecent pictures of children. It is right that there should be appropriate penalties levied on those who exploit children in this way.

We have heard the evidence provided by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and others. There is no need for me to repeat the lurid examples that have been given. The House has a responsibility to protect those in our society least able to protect themselves. I hope that the House will respond in a positive manner and I further hope that the spirit in which the Bill has been discussed today will continue when it goes into Committee and that the Government will give a positive lead to putting an end to this despicable trade.

2.19 p.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

In recent days the media have highlighted the need for legislation to protect children against sexual exploitation. There are alarming accounts of the flood of pornography in America. The United States has clamped down on this scandal and there is a terrible menace that this evil, now of some proportions in Britain, may be still further accentuated.

Parents are being tempted by offers of money to allow their children to be modelled or pictured. Indeed, The Daily Telegraph recently wrote about a young mother of four children who said that once a nude picture of her 15-year-old son had appeared in a magazine his life was ruined. She said: He gets beaten up by groups of boys, cannot socialise, and his education has fallen way behind. The photographer manipulated him and it reached a stage when he was beginning to manipulate my other son. The hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) is to be congratulated on using his luck in the Ballot to introduce the Bill.

It may be said that, having been born in the Victorian age, I am rather old fashioned. I confess that I like a gamble, I enjoy a sexy story, I like President Carter, and, like every normal man, have my dreams. The Victorian age, however, no doubt went too far. There is a great deal to be said for honest, candid sex education to be given to children. I am not a follower of Mary Whitehouse. I do not go along with her in many of her criticisms. I believe that there is much to be said for more plain speaking and for more enlightenment, and that not too much should be hidden.

Hon. Members may recall the prosecution in 1954 for alleged obscene libel of a book called "The Philanderer". The late Mr. Justice Stable, in summing up in that case, used some very memorable words: Throughout the ages this matter has been one of absorbing interest to men and women. You get two schools of thought poles apart, and in between those extremes you have a variety of opinion and thought. At one extreme you get the conception illustrated in some of the teachings of the medieval Church, that sex is sin, that the whole thing is dirty and the less that is said about this wholly distasteful topic the better. Later, the learned judge said this: At the other extreme you get the line of thought which says that nothing but mischief results from this policy of secrecy and covering up and the proper approach to the matter is one of frankness, plain speaking and the avoidance of any pretence. I think that the permissive society has gone too far in the opposite direction. I think, for example, of some of the books in public libraries which are easily obtainable by any reader and which contain the most filthy expressions and episodes of sex, described in the most lurid and detailed fashion and going far beyond what was written in "The Philanderer".

Of all the evils in this widespread pornography the corruption of a child is, in my view, the most scandalous. It is vital that children be protected against that evil.

The Bill creates the offence of taking an indecent photograph of a child, of making an indecent film of such child, of possessing such a photograph or film with a view to production, and of assisting or causing or permitting this to be done. The offence arises whether it is done for gain or not or whether in public or in private. This is rightly so, as the main thing to be avoided is the corruption of the child.

As the Minister of State said, there are a number of laws under which the offen- der can be caught. I have no doubt that the Home Office is vigilant in its supervision. Yet there is doubt about the meaning of "obscenity". It is time that the law said clearly, as it does in the Bill, that it is an offence punishable in the way indicated in Clause 6.

When reading the Bill I was worried about the use of the word "indecent". I wondered whether it would not be easy for a defendant to contend that the photograph or film was not indecent, but on reflection I think that it would be extremely difficult to spell out a definition which would not still leave it open for such a defence to be raised. Some children's photographs taken by loving parents in the early years of the child might well be regarded as indecent. It seems to me that the best course is to leave it to the common sense of a jury to decide whether the photograph or film is indecent. Moreover, there is the added safeguard in Clause 5 that No proceedings shall be instituted except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions". This guards against a malicious prosecution being brought by a private person.

I have, however, some doubt about the wisdom of the proviso to Clause 5. Apparently no such consent has to be obtained for the arrest, or the issue of a warrant for the arrest of a person … or the remand in custody or on bail of the accused person.

I also enter a doubt about the proviso in Clause 1(4), where the mere description by caption, text or reference to a child being under 16 years of age is sufficient to prove that age. Of course an accused person can refute such a presumption, but it is wrong that the onus should not be on the prosecution.

There is one further point. In Clause 4(b) it is a defence if the photograph or film is produced or shown solely in the course of justice or of scientific or learned study". I appreciate that such a photograph or film may be essential as evidence in civil or criminal proceedings in a court of law. It may also be necessary for scientific or possibly medical reasons if a jury accepts that fact, but I do not like the words "learned study". They might cover a multitude of sins.

I hope that these matters will be carefully considered in Committee.

Many members of the public have called urgently for this measure. I have received many letters from constituents asking me to support the Bill. I gladly do so.

2.26 p.m.

Sir Michael Havers (Wimbledon)

I hope that the House will think that this is a convenient time for me to intervene. I, too, will try to follow the example set by previous speakers.

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), not only on his good fortune in coming so high in the Ballot but on his good sense in choosing this subject for his Bill.

There are, as the Minister of State said, two questions for the House to consider. First, is this a problem, or is it likely to be a problem? Secondly, is the present law adequate to deal with it?

As to whether this is a problem, we have all had a good deal of help from Dr. Densen-Gerber who has done so much work in America and who has been of great assistance to those of us concerned with the problem in this country. She is not only a doctor but a lawyer and has devoted a great deal of the past few years to dealing with this problem.

One realises the magnitude of the problem when one realises that in each month in America 264 magazines are produced showing photographs of young boys and that there are probably 3,000 photographs of boys shown in any one month there. That is only on the homosexual side. Unfortunately, there is an even greater demand for photographs of young girls and pre-pubescent girls. It is a problem which we find is probably arising in this country, from the evidence that we have been able to see and which has been gathered by various quarters, including chief constables here.

Mr. Dan Jones

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman know how much money those people earn illegally?

Sir M. Havers

In the United States it is no doubt a major crime industry involving large sums of money.

One of the problems is not only the involvement of the children in the photographs. It is also the consequences to children as a result of adults seeing the photographs. I was given one example by Dr. Denson-Gerber, and she also cited this to Congress when she gave evidence there last year. A doctor who is a leading worker on incest in that country and who works at his Santa Clara, California, project had 50 cases reported by probation to him the first year, 350 cases the second year and last year over 800. That progression in three years indicates that something is causing the father or brother to look to the younger sister or daughter for sexual relief.

It may well be, and it is believed by some people, that pornographic magazines influence and encourage such activity. So there are far too many people involved in this.

We must then ask ourselves whether the present law is adequate. It is a grey area. The biggest gap exists, as far as I can gather, where the photographer takes a lewd photograph of one boy or one girl without himself touching the child in any way and when there is no adult model involved as well, so that in those circumstances there can be no offence under the Sexual Offences Act; there cannot be any conspiracy charge, and even if the Indecency with Children Act applies—and I do not think it does—children between the ages of 14 and 16 are excluded. Many people are interested in photographs of indecent behaviour with children of just that sort of age. This activity is clearly likely to lead to damage to the child and subsequent feelings of guilt and anxiety, not only about what the child did but perhaps about the ultimate disposal of the photographs.

Let me give an example of what happened in Huntingdonshire some years ago. A photographer who was operating in the county very near a big RAF base, who was a very good photographer, took, for parents, a lot of photographs of the children. Some of the children were taken in shorts while playing tennis or something of that sort. The photographs were perfectly decent but posed and of young children, mostly of boys. But this photographer had a sideline in which he took indecent photographs of a number of boys. He was a very skilful mechanic in photography. He managed to superimpose obscene pictures of boys' private parts on to the photographs of the children he had taken. He then sold the photographs, which would have been circulated around London, and perhaps even on the base. So skilful was the work that the parent and even the boy himself would have thought that it was a photograph of a boy behaving indecently when in fact he had done absolutely nothing wrong.

This is a vice that we want to get rid of—which the Bill will achieve. The United States has recognised the problem. Only a short time ago the President gave his consent to a Bill dealing with this matter, a Bill which was slightly different from that which we have here. With a Bill of this kind the Americans also have the problem of moving across the State lines. There is no definition of indecency, but there is the "prohibited sexual act", which is defined in a number of ways and which includes one definition in particular: nudity; if such nudity is to be depicted for the purpose of sexual stimulation or gratification of any individual who may view such depiction". The penalties on the photographer are up to $50,000 and 20 years' imprisonment, and for those who carry the photograph or possess it $25,000 and not more than 15 years' imprisonment. It is interesting to see how seriously this matter has been taken. When the Bill went through the House of Representatives it was carried by 401 votes to nil.

But there is one consequence of that new Bill which we must consider. When I was speaking of this as a growing phenomenon I said that it was something that existed and asked whether it was likely to become worse. The very fact that one of the major producers of this form of filth has now passed a law of that sort means that one of the major sources of supply for this country will be cut off if the American Bill is effective. I believe that that will encourage an increase in domestic production of this sort of photographic work.

I wish to make two or three points about the Bill. It is right to include Clause 5. It is right that the Director of Public Prosecutions should exercise overall control. Consistency in this sort of case is sensible, and it will prevent silly prosecutions of genuine family pic- tures that no one would say were indecent.

The use of the word "indecent" is right here. It has a very respectable pedigree. It is in the Post Office Act and in the Customs Acts. It is much easier to understand than "obscenity". We are all hoping for a new definition from Professor Williams and his committee because the present one has proved totally useless, and there are a number of examples of magazines, books and films—and I have seen some of them—being acquitted by juries when no one in this House would expect a jury to acquit.

So, if by good fortune this is not yet a serious affliction, who can deny that, if nothing is done, this is only the calm before the storm? It is vital to act to stop it in its beginnings, and therefore I ask the House to give the Bill its blessing. By doing so we may be saving the sanity and future happiness of many children.

2.35 p.m.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

We have been entreated to be brief so that everyone who wishes may have a chance to speak in this debate, and I shall be as brief as I can. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Bexley Heath (Mr. Townsend) on introducing the Bill. I congratulate, too, the Minister of State on the important contribution he made, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on his valuable intervention.

One of the things that emerges and that must distress us, and that, for wider reasons we should not forget, is that this appalling business is a product of our Western society. We have heard this morning how this stuff comes here from the United States. I am sure that that will cause every American great shame, just as it causes us great anxiety. Much of this material comes from those countries with which we are in every way closely associated, and it would be myopic of this House and of those other countries to fail to take note of it.

As nations we have endeavoured to work together to try to beat the drug-pushers. We must now try to work together to beat the porn pushers. In this island, as in many other countries, the lowest form of this pornographic vulgarity is the exploitation of children. What sort of parents are some of our fellow country men and women who allow—if it is true that they do—their children of, say, 3 years, to participate in such appalling activities? We must look behind the Bill to see how this sort of thing can happen and see whether it is possible to outlaw encouragement in these activities by parents. Neither this nor any other obscenity Bill can achieve that, but something must be done. Parents who permit their children of 2, 3 or 4 years to be used in this disgusting manner are, in the eyes of ordinary folk, committing a ghastly criminal offence.

No one this morning has been able to give an example of this sort of activity against children being brought into court. Is the legislation already enacted so useless as to lead to that situation? Or, and this must be said, is enough attention being given to enforcement?

Mr. John

More than enough.

Mr. Molloy

If the answer is more than enough I do not understand how that can be when not one case has been brought before the courts.

We cannot look at this in isolation. As the hon. Member for Bexleyheath said, there has been all sorts of pornographic behaviour in books and shows. Within a mile of this place, probably at this very moment, there is an appalling lot of ghastly, vulgar, sexual activity going on, all in the cause of making money. We are reaching the point at which the only person with some understanding in this lurid field is the prostitute. Everyone else seems to be maladjusted and needs some form of psychiatric attention in this field, except the purveyors of porn.

The porn purveyors are like the drug pushers. They themselves never seem to be affected by what they are pushing or purveying. They seem to be immune to it. This is distressing. It means that they have no excuse. They cannot say that they had a touch of this or that drug earlier in their life or that they were subjected to some pornographic exhibition in which they were involved. Like the drug pushers, they are the brutal people that we have to get at.

If the law on obscene publications, both the 1959 Act and the 1965 Act—bearing in mind that the latter Act was introduced to plug the holes in the 1959 Act—has failed to do anything or has not been able to do it, we have had since—even before then—the Indecency with Children Act. When one reads that, even today, one would think that everything was covered, and that it could all be used by the police and prosecuting authorities. It is only when we hear lawyers arguing in court that we realise how careful we in the House of Commons must be to wrap up everything in the ghastly language that sometimes appears in Bills. But the reason for having to put into Bills that appalling language which is sometimes laughed at by the media is that if there is any little loophole, the lawyers will find a way through if they have to defend someone on these issues.

People will be defended irrespective of how vulgar and how repugnant is the charge on which they are brought before the courts. That principle must be maintained. With this valuable Bill, our job in Committee will be to try to reduce evasion of its intent to the absolute minimum. Let us take an example from some other legislation.

I conclude by saying that another point on which we have to concentrate is that when we have put this Bill on the statute book, it must not end there. We have to tell the police, magistrates and all those responsible for and involved with enforcement that it is their turn to see that the desires of the House of Commons, which are the desires of the people, particularly on an issue such as this, when we are unanimous, demand every possible aspect of enforcement.

Therefore, I support the Bill in the hope that it will become a worthy Act to rid us of an appalling disgrace that stains our society.

2.42 p.m.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

I have been very cheered to hear today that help is to be forthcoming from the Home Office Ministers for this Bill. But they must not be altogether surprised if I press them on whether that really means help. Without Government help, no Private Member's Bill has a chance to get through at all. Let us make that absolutely plain. There is a difference between not opposing a Bill and actually helping it to get through.

Today the Government have reminded me a little of the attitude of the burglar who was caught by police on the street and who immediately said that he was totally innocent, and when the police said to him "What is this jemmy?", he said "Well, actually it is a toothpick." The police did not altogether agree or believe the burglar. With the greatest of gentleness, I must tell the Minister of State that it is a little difficult to be surprised that hon. Members have been concerned about the attitude of Home Office Ministers on this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Several hon. Members, from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition downwards, have over recent months sought to question the Ministers about the spread of child pornography. None has succeeded in drawing forth more than a rather tepid assurance that the matter will be looked at.

Twice today reference has been made to Mary Whitehouse.

Mr. John

Before the hon. Lady moves on—

Mrs. Knight

I shall not move on. The Minister will have an opportunity to intervene. I shall gladly give him one. However, I want to explain why there is this little uneasiness and to beg the Minister to clear it up.

Two hon. Members have mentioned Mary Whitehouse in a disparaging manner. I want to say three things about Mary Whitehouse that are absolutely undeniable. First, she has enormous courage; second, she has tenacity; and third, she has a very good measure of public support. But she also has a great deal of information. The fact is that the Home Office Minister refused, as I understand it—he may correct me by all means—to see Mary Whitehouse so that she could put her evidence in front of him. I believe that the doctor to whom reference has been made today, Dr. DensenGerber, who is an acknowledged expert on this subject throughout the world, also offered to give the Minister her evidence, and he refused to see her.

If the Minister would care to intervene now, that would be very welcome.

Mr. John

There is scarcely a debate that the hon. Lady does not drag down. I was hoping that the debate had risen above that situation.

First, let me take the question of not seeing Mrs. Whitehouse. It is true that Mrs. Whitehouse was asked to see a very high official of the Home Office rather than Ministers themselves. That is not uncommon. Unless accompanied by Members of Parliament, members of the public do not have free access to Ministers. I believe in equality. I do not see why any person in this land should have preferential treatment over another in this respect.

Second, the hon. Lady talks about tepidity of answer and paucity of information. We have been having extensive consultations with the people who really know about this matter. They are the police forces of this country, including the West Midlands Constabulary.

Third, at the time at which the hon. Lady was speaking, no Bill was before me. The Bill became available in draft, as the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) will know—for quite understandable reasons—only in early January. We had a meeting in December at which we discussed the theory of it and a meeting in January at which we discussed the first draft. If the hon. Lady thinks that I or any other Minister would give a blank cheque to a Private Member's Bill without ever having seen it, she is quite wrong and is distorting the position.

Mrs. Knight

I never said anything of the sort. All that I am trying to explain is why there has undeniably been this feeling. I shall be giving the Minister the opportunity—as I have done—to set the matter right.

The fact is that it is well worth hearing the evidence of people such as Dr. Densen-Gerber, who is acknowledged throughout the world to be an expert on this matter. There are other people who are interested, too—schoolteachers, clergymen, doctors, parents, ordinary members of the public. The Minister has just mentioned the police. Surely he will agree that the police warned last November that the Obscene Publications Squad had growing evidence that, contrary to the statements made by the Home Secretary, children in Britain are being used for obscene photographs in increasing numbers.

Mr. John

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Knight

I am trying to be quick.

Mr. John

The hon. Lady must not confuse assertion with evidence. I think that she is in grave danger of doing so. The only evidence that she adduces is what she says the police said. I have given the House the benefit of my consultations with all the police forces, including the Metropolitan Police yesterday and the West Midlands Police yesterday. Their evidence is directly to the contrary.

Mrs. Knight

I only hope that the Minister accords me the generosity of gratitude for letting him say these things, because the fact is that these matters of police comment have been reported widely in the Press and that is the reason why the Minister has given the impression that he has not been so keen on the Bill.

Police evidence suggests that children are being used in Britain for pornography in three ways. First of all they are victims of semi-professional pornography in which photographs are taken, often by a supposedly friendly "uncle" and distributed as reprints on a small scale. I hope that the Minister will not deny that that happens.

Secondly, the police say that British children are photographed in a variety of obscene poses, sometimes with adults and sometimes with animals, and these photographs find their way into fully professional sex magazines. I believe that the Bill will deal with this situation.

Thirdly, there is the use of children in apparently innocent poses. The pictures are indeed innocent, but they are rendered obscene by the captions or texts underneath. I am not sure whether the Bill will cover that. These pictures appear in magazines which have been imported from abroad, but many of the subjects can be traced to homes in Britain.

Child pornography is very big business. I understand that it brings in £588 million a year in the United States and that in Britain the figure has reached £24 million a year. Obviously it is very big business indeed. There has been a very sharp rise in this in the last two years. It was suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) that this was not a new factor and that it had been going on for a long time. There is ample evidence to show that while photographs of children may have been taken through the ages, it is only in the last 18 months to two years that this issue has mushroomed into a matter of commercial gain.

Child porn is increasing because we are so slow to act against adult porn. No fad or fashion or trend is ever static. The more sick appetites that are fed by porn, and the more normal appetites that are perverted by porn, the more extreme the porn must become. The picture that shocked or titillated at one stage becomes tame at the next stage, and something more extreme must be introduced to keep the porn merchants in business. Because every variation and deviation of heterosexual and homosexual behaviour in adults has been exploited, child porn has become so prevalent. It is a drug.

If the present law on obscenity is capable of dealing with the situation, why has it not done so? If the Minister of State cannot answer that, he must actively support this Bill. A recent article in The Times said that the Home Office was so bland and so full of sophistry in its defence of what is euphemistically called permissiveness that it was no wonder the Home Secretary was not acting on child pornography. Indeed, it was a former Labour Home Secretary who said that the permissive society was the civilised society. Maybe that sort of teaching still lingers on, but the Government must agree that permissiveness to pervert and destroy our children is a permissiveness that neither Parliament nor the people will tolerate. Two years is too long to await the outcome of the Williams Committee, and I am glad to hear the Minister say that he will not necessarily wait.

No mention has been made so far about the appalling obscenity of children being infected by venereal disease. In America it is very much a feature of child pornography. Tiny children have been infected by VD and when the situation has been reached in which a nine-month-old girl has to be treated for gonorrhoea of the throat it is enough to make the angels weep. In America the law has been changed to cover this and I hope that we can do that as well. Also in America laws have been passed recently to end pornography and I believe that as our troubles mirror theirs and our trends follow theirs, our legislation must copy theirs on this matter.

2.54 p.m.

Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)

I do not want to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) too closely. She has brought the debate down a bit to the level at which it began. Most of us have come here to support the Bill and give it a fair wind. Therefore, we were upset to hear the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) giving a Press conference on the radio this morning and in the Daily Express saying that the attitude of the Home Office was scandalous. This, aided by interventions by some of his over-eager hon. Friends, gave the impression that this was in some sense a partisan matter. I am glad that the hon. Member was reproved, not only from these Benches but by the spokesmen for the Liberal Party, the Scottish National Party and the Ulster Unionists. This is not a matter in which we should seek to say that another political party is more restrictive or more permissive than our own.

I support the Bill on three grounds—as a parent, a citizen and a legislator. As a parent I have three young children of my own, and I know just how trusting children can be. They are outgoing and naturally spontaneous, and one can see how easy it would be for someone to seduce and lead them astray in exploitive relationships.

I support the Bill as a citizen because there is a distinction to be drawn, not so much between liberty and licence, as one of my hon. Friends said earlier—this is a difficult line to draw, because one man's liberty is surely another man's licence—as between what is creative and life-enhancing and what is exploitive and life-destroying.

In discussing child pornography our first consideration must be the protection of children. What happens to a child who is subjected to pornography? We can see that this type of practice is life-destructive in the deepest and most perverted sense. This is the kind of activity with which the Bill hopes to deal.

As a legislator I support the Bill because I think that the verdict in the Court of Appeal made it clear that there was a lacuna in the law. Once that judgment was given, it was not enough for us to write back to our constituents, after a letter-writing campaign, and tell them that we must wait to consider the legal definitions from the Williams Committee. We have to acknowledge that there was a failing in the law and that this can be tackled only by legislation. That legislation must come sooner rather than later. With that in mind, I support the hon. Member for Bexleyheath.

I support the Bill as one who has taken issue before, and will do so again, with many of those who are pushing this Bill and other more restrictive legislation. It is not necessarily a recommendation to me to see the Bill being campaigned for by the Festival of Light, one of our most self-publicising chief constables, and Mr. Ronald Butt in The Times. It is not necessarily a recommendation to see an editorial in support of the Bill on page 2 of The Sun, pointed out, literally, by the upstanding and outstanding nipples of lovely model Marianne on page 3. That is also exploitation, and some of us regard it as the grossest hypocrisy on the part of a newspaper which has played its part in debauching standards among the newspaper-reading public in this country.

The faults in the Bill are entirely matters to be dealt with in Committee. I think that the Bill will be passed by 631 votes to nil, just as the House of Representatives passed equivalent legislation in the United States by 401 votes to nil.

In Committee we shall have to consider the question of indecency. Hon. Members who served on the Committee that considered the Cinematograph and Indecent Displays Bill will recollect that the definition of indecency caused considerable trouble, because the notion of indecency varies between generations, between different places in the country, and so on.

When we have concluded our work on the Bill and it is passed into law this Session we want to make sure that the deviant and degenerate minority that is battening upon children is tackled. I served for some years on the Annan Committee, which considered the future of broadcasting. On a visit to the United States we were told that pornography was not only a major racket and a multimillion pound business but was moving increasingly into the domestic area.

It is no longer just a matter of furtive people buying magazines in shops. With the playback facilities available on modern television sets, it is possible to buy pornographic video-cassettes, take them home and use them at leisure. I am pleased at the ingenious definition of video-cassettes which has been included in the Bill. It reminds us of the sort of activities that we are dealing with when trying to prevent children being exploited. We must also never forget the other children who are not involved but who may be attacked as the result of the activities of those who see, consume and use the material that we are trying to control.

3.1 p.m.

Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)

I I have listened to every speaker, and it has become clear that there is support for the Bill in all parts of the House because it seeks to protect our children. That is why I support it.

The Minister has acknowledged that the present state of the law leaves children between 14 and 16 unprotected against the exploitation of the pornographer who seeks to use them. Indeed, it is even more serious than that. Children under 14, even some as young as 3 or 4, are exposed and vulnerable because of deficiencies in the law.

As is well recognised, pornography in the United States is a multi-million dollar industry, backed by the Mafia. One can only hope that the legislation recently introduced there will do something to put an end to that industry, certainly as it affects children. In this country, which so often follows the American pattern, the production, sale and distribution of child pornography threatens to become a growth industry, if, indeed, it has not already become so. It promises what appears to be a safe fortune for the merchants of pornography who are beginning to see in child pornography new hope of even more prosperity.

The Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester police area has pointed out that in his area—I believe that the same is true of the North-West generally—there has been an increase in the percentage of child pornography in the hard porn it is circulating in that part of the country. Police officers in the North-West and, no doubt, throughout the country, who thought themselves unshockable, have been shocked by what they have seen in publications dealing with child pornography. Some police officers who thought that they were not queasy were sickened by these publications. We all know about the sense of public outrage manifested throughout our correspondence, and I am certain that all hon. Members have received many letters on this topic. Therefore, it is clear that something must be done soon.

The law is in a state of weakness and confusion and in so far as it relates to children is useless. There are formidable difficulties that we must face in repairing those deficiencies and putting them right, but those difficulties are not insuperable. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) on his Bill, because I believe that it is a guide to the way in which we shall overcome these problems.

We do not have to wait for the Williams Committee or any other committee to measure the growth or gravity or size of this problem. It is enough to know that it exists and is being carried on, as undoubtedly it is, as a vile and evil trade. The Bill gives us all hope that we can deal with this trade in the way it deserves.

3.7 p.m.

Mr. Neville Sandelson (Hayes and Harlington)

We are against sin and we are, I expect, all for this Bill being given a Second Reading.

Moral indignation at obvious social evil and personal wickedness is not the preserve of any particular section of this House, and the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) knows that he commands the support of all of us—not least the Minister and the Home Secretary—in his desire to deal with, and if possible eliminate, this problem.

The Minister is absolutely right, and would be failing in his responsibility to do otherwise, in informing the House of existing legislation and of the serious difficulties and disadvantages in dealing with merely one aspect of a much wider range of issues surrounding the laws governing obscenity and indecency. Nevertheless, existing legislation to protect children, particularly adolescents, from this type of exploitation is patently defective, with the result that both lawyers and prosecuting authorities are often left in great uncertainty on the question whether proceedings can be instituted under present laws.

The producers and purveyors of this type of pornography involving children are no doubt aware of this legal uncertainty and will not hesitate to make mercenary use of it. While it would be preferable in some ways to await the comprehensive report of the Williams Committee and then to pass consequential legislation, the evils with which the Bill is concerned cannot be permitted to increase and spread, and an immediate measure has become necessary.

A number of matters in the Bill will require detailed examination in Committee. If I am asked to serve on the Committee, I shall certainly press the case for much more stringent penalties than those proposed in Clause 6, which are strikingly out of line with permissible maximum terms of imprisonment for other analogous offences under existing Acts of Parliament.

I have in mind, for example, offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act which, certainly on conviction on indictment, carry far heavier terms of imprisonment. There are degrees of gravity depending on the nature of the offence, the particular circumstances, and the quantity involved, whether it involves dangerous drugs or hard pornographic material of this kind, portraying young people.

I believe that a similar approach to arrive at appropriate sentences could well be enacted for the purpose of the Bill. Sentences for this type of offence, in particular, must be of a realistically deterrent character or they fail entriely. I do not believe that the proposed penalties are likely to prove sufficiently effective, and if I have the opportunity I shall press for much more stringent terms of imprisonment to be provided for.

3.10 p.m.

Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)

One of the primary duties of Parliament and Government is the defence of the realm. When we talk about defence we are talking not simply about the rebuttal of a physical and uniformed enemy with weaponry but about mental and spiritual health and their defence.

Many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have touched on the nub of the matter, the protection of children. That is what the Bill is all about. With adult pornography there is at least the consoling factor, if any consolation can be derived, that those who become involved do so of their own volition. That is not so in the case of child pornography. Therefore, it is clearly the duty of the House to defend all the nation's children.

We must do so for two reasons. First, children cannot evaluate the moral worth or worthlessness of such an evil practice, and therefore we must do it for them. Parliament must reserve to itself the right to act on behalf of and in defence of our children. Secondly, children cannot possibly anticipate or evaluate the consequences of involvement in child pornography. That, too, is a vital aspect.

The Bill has not been introduced as a short-term expedient. I believe that norms are being established which will have a fundamental effect on the morale and morality of the nation in future years. If this dreadful traffic, this commerce, is allowed to proceed unabated and uninhibited, we shall create within the nation norms that will eventually destroy it. Therefore, the Bill will do the nation a tremendous service.

Psychologists tell us that the two great factors in formulating and forming a person's personality are hereditary and environmental factors. How soon shall we reach a stage when pornography is so accepted that it erodes every ability to decide what is decent and what is not? What we are doing today is anticipating the dreadful consequences of this practice on behalf of the children who are not in a position to do so.

I shall not enter into the details of the Bill—the Committee is the place for that—but I wish to speak about the question of sentencing. It is clear that remission has not been taken into consideration. If a man is sentenced to three years' imprisonment and secures full remission, the penalty is negligible. It is no deterrent. We must remember that remission is part and parcel of our system and must talk realistically about penalties.

The danger described by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) applies to the whole nation and not only a part. I hope that Northern Ireland will be included under the terms of the Bill. Again, perhaps the Committee is the place to effect that change.

One of our problems is that we have much archaic legislation. Great Britain has legislation on this subject dating from 1959, but Northern Ireland has legislation dating back to 1859. We are still talking about indecencies in bathhouses and wash-houses.

The Secretary of State is obviously familiar not with bath-houses but with the subject to hand. It is desperately important that the Committee looks at the question of the Bill's application to Northern Ireland.

3.16 p.m.

Mr. Ivor Clemitson (Luton, East)

I fully support the Bill, but I want to make clear in what context I support it. I believe that morality should be concerned with the whole gamut of human life and individual and communal affairs. I am totally opposed to those who equate morality with sexual morality.

I find it a little sad that, like other hon. Members, I have been flooded with letters about this topic but have not been flooded with letters, particularly from fellow Christians, about such matters as the plight of our fellow human beings in the Third World or the death of Steve Biko.

I say this more in sorrow than in anger, because it saddens me that the great morality of the Judaeo-Christian tradition is either spiritualised out of existence or reduced to an obsessive concern for sexual morality.

I do not approach this question from a narrow perspective; I approach it from the point of view of a total morality, of which this is a particular part.

Going on from that, let me say that I am against exploitation. We are dealing here with one aspect of exploitation—the exploitation of children for sexual purposes. Of course, I am against that, as we are all against it. Of course, we are all in favour of every possible and reasonable legislative means to stop it.

But we would do well to remind ourselves that this is not the only way in which children are exploited. Only a few weeks ago we had the annual round of Christmas advertising, which is a shameless exercise in the exploitation of children for pecuniary gain. Exploitation is exploitation wherever, whenever and to whomsoever it occurs.

I plead that we should be consistent in such matters. Of course, we are right in this debate to be concerned about the protection of children. I feel that in some ways this is becoming of more importance in our society. Unfortunately, I detect a growing anti-child feeling in our society. We hear it suggested that in some ways children are a burden and prevent people from fulfilling themselves, or that in some way children reduce the liberty and freedom of their parents.

The task of rearing, caring for and protecting children is surely one of the most demanding and creative tasks that any human being can undertake. I am afraid that in our society today there is a danger of these things becoming undervalued and even devalued. I hear strident and raucous voices in our society suggesting such things. Lest I am accused of being a male chauvinist, I take it that the care, nurture and protection of children are not the concern of one sex only.

I turn now to the narrower area of sexual morality. I am broadly in favour of maximising individual freedom, but there are certain areas in which freedom must be limited by legislative action. One of the absolute areas in which it must be limited is the protection of children. It seems logical and reasonable to combine the need to protect children with the need to protect those whose freedom is being impinged upon by other people. I was pleased to read in The Times yesterday that the Board of Social Responsibility of the Church of England apparently takes a similar view.

No doubt there are people who see this exercise today as merely the first step in a campaign to extend censorship and to reduce the freedom of individuals. They would be gravely mistaken if they thought that our assent to the Bill today means that we would follow them down that particular road.

I support the Bill. I do so not because I want to associate myself in any way with those who seek to restrict our freedoms or those whose concept of morality is confined to the narrow sphere of sexual relations, but because the proper care, nurture and protection of children is one of the greatest tasks that human beings can undertake. I support the Bill in the context of a morality that is concerned with the whole gamut of human activity and exploitation in all its forms.

3.22 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

A little while ago Mr. Speaker congratulated hon. Members on being good boys regarding the length of their speeches. I hope to be a nice boy as well as a good boy.

I should like to be nice to the Minister of State, who made an excellent speech on a difficult subject. I should also like to be nice to my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend). If he had not taken the initiative with this Bill, I doubt whether we should have been advancing this cause as swiftly as we are today.

The Secretary of State, in one of his interventions, described this matter as a "mucky and nasty business". If we want to sort it out, as we all do, I hope that the House will feel it right to hear the views of that group of our fellow citizens who will have to carry out this distasteful and nasty job. I have an interest in the police, which I declare, and I want briefly to indicate their views, as worked out in great detail by the legislation committee of the Police Federation.

The police do not have to deal with this nasty and mucky business only on a Friday afternoon, or when the Press and the public are up in arms about it; they have to deal with it all the time—24 hours of the day, 52 weeks of the year. And they have to deal with the details. The details are the most tricky part of the whole problem. The police will have to decide exactly when and how to seize private property, when to come between parents and their children, how to establish the age of the victim and the motives of the violator. The police will also have to decide what attitude to take to the powerful defences which are rightly built into the Bill.

The Police Federation takes the view that the Bill must be given a Second Reading not because it is not full of holes—there are holes, and they will need to be filled in Committee—but for three overwhelming reasons.

The first reason is that the use and abuse of children for indecent purposes is a serious and growing evil. We must control it before it gets any worse.

Secondly, the Federation wants Parliament to act because it knows that the public wants this. I do not believe that the public is always right. But I do not believe that it is always wrong, either. And on this matter, as on a number of others, the House has a duty to respond to the clear call of public opinion, because if we do not we shall further widen the gap not only between Parliament and the public but conceivably between the police service and the public. We owe it to the national will to respond by passing the Bill.

The third reason why the police want a Second Reading of the Bill is, frankly, that they want, as I want, to fire a warning shot across the bows not only of those among our intellectuals and sociologists, but of those in other powerful positions in our society who, in the name of liberty, have progressively been pulling the props out from under the rules of law and morality and decency. We know how far this has gone in Soho and in the "girlie" magazines, and even, heaven forbid, in the cinemas at Bury St. Edmunds, one of the most moral places in Britain. But what people do not realise is just how far this rot has gone in high places among those who have a powerful influence on our thinking and legislation.

A little earlier the Minister of State rebuked me, perhaps rightly, when I referred to the recommendations of the Sexual Reform Society's working party. What this body recommended to the Criminal Law Revision Committee was specifically:

  1. "(1) reducing the 'age of consent' to 14 for both boys and girls for heterosexual and homosexual behaviour.
  2. (2) The offence of rape to be abolished.
  3. (3) Incest should not be a specifically designated criminal offence when committed between mutually consenting persons aged over 14."
—that means that it is all right; that incest is all right with a 15-year-old— (4) The sections of the 1956 and 1967 Acts relating to buggery should be repealed. I do not for a moment believe that the Home Secretary is a party to those proposals. But I hope the House will recognise that the fact that these suggestions have been made, and that the Police Federation is having to give a great deal of time to considering the pros and cons, is an illustration that the moral decline of our society has begun to eat into quite powerful areas among the intelligensia and the Civil Service.

Mr. John

It is all right for the hon. Gentleman to say that, so long as he makes it clear that the Sexual Reform Committee is not an official body but a private pressure group and that all that is happening is that the Criminal Law Revision Committee is considering those matters, among other submissions made to it. My right hon. Friend has said that the change will not take place while he is Home Secretary.

Mr. Griffiths

I am delighted to hear that. If I have elicited the fact that the Home Secretary disapproves of those things, I am delighted.

The Bill will require a number of important changes in Committee. I put three of them to my hon. Friend. I think that there are faults of omission. So far as I can see, there is no power within the Bill to remove a child from the custody of an offender or the place where an offence of this type has been committed. There is other legislation that might handle that, but perhaps my hon. Friend will consider providing powers for the removal of a child at risk from the premises in question. Secondly, I can find nothing about the soliciting of children or their parents for the purpose of procuring that such an offence will take place.

There are a number of other minor details but I am sure that it is right to give the Bill a Second Reading. But when we give the police the additional powers that they need, let us please give them powers which they will be able to enforce effectively. It is not enough simply to decide, on a Friday afternoon in the House of Commons, that "Here is a problem and this Bill is necessary to deal with it" and then forget all about it. Never let us forget those who have to operate it on our behalf on the ground.

3.24 p.m.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

I am a little disappointed at having to speak after the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), because he keeps producing his orange sheet of paper. He seems to be rather unfortunate. He says that the fact that the Home Office has been consulting the police about views put to them is in some way a criticism of the Home Office. I believe that the hon. Gentleman would be equally quick to criticise the Home Office if it did not consult the Police Federation. The hon. Gentleman wants it both ways. He wants the Police Federation to be consulted about these things, and when it is consulted he complains about the information being given to it. It is unfortunate that this red herring has been drawn into the debate.

With the majority of hon. Members, I hope that this legislation will quickly reach the statute book. In a sense, I am making a "Me, too" speech. It seems unfortunate that at this stage on a Friday afternoon there is not a procedure by which we can get on the record the number of hon. Members who have stopped behind, not having gone to their constituencies on a Friday, to get this legislation through. A large number of hon. Members would like it on the record that they are fully in support of the Bill, and it is unfortunate that there is not a parliamentary procedure whereby that can be shown. One hon. Member commented that he was looking in the Tea Room for a hero who would oppose the Bill, not because he wanted it opposed, but so that he could get it firmly on the record that he was voting for it. I hope that this measure will go though and that it will receive full support, both here and in another place.

I have had letters about the Bill from a large number of my constituents. I always appreciate receiving their letters, and I am particularly pleased when they press me to do something which I intended to do already—in this case, support the Bill. But I am a little concerned that some of my constituents have taken the attitude of one or two hon. Members in the House and suggested that there is no legislation that stops this sort of thing now.

The Press and other people will be doing an important service if they make sure that the Minister's speech is widely reported, so that it is made clear that there is a great deal of legislation which can already be used, and so that people who are concerned about this will use that legislation now to stop this abuse and will not wait until the loopholes are closed.

The loopholes appear to affect only a very small part of the matter and not the whole. I appeal to all the people who write in to hon. Members pressing for action to make sure that they themselves are using the parts of the existing law which are appropriate and not to wait for this legislation to go through the House.

I am also concerned that the Bill is intended at the moment to apply only to England. I hope that the Minister will assure us that when it comes into operation in England similar legislation will operate in the rest of the United Kingdom.

I hope, too, that the Minister will try to press, through the Foreign Office, for action to be taken in the rest of the world. A lot of the pressure for this legislation is because the United States has legislated. It would be unfortunate if we were to legislate and protect children here only to find that they were being exploited in some other Western country. The Government should exert a lot of pressure to persuade the whole of the Western world to protect children and to stop them from being exploited not only in this country but throughout the world.

I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill on Second Reading. I very much hope that it will appear quickly on the statute book.

3.39 p.m.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) has achieved a unique distinction. In all the many years that I have sat here, I do not recollect anyone who has managed to bring together the whole House in such a warm-hearted demonstration of unity on a single matter. Perhaps, having re- gard to the battles that I have had with the Minister of State, it would be churlish if I do not say how heartened I was by the encouraging response that he gave this morning. I refer to the undertaking that he gave that the Government will facilitate the progress of the Bill and will help to strengthen it in Committee.

However, it would not be inappropriate for someone to sound a slightly critical note. I am disappointed in the Bill, as I indicated in an intervention earlier. It does not go far enough to deal with the growing threat to the moral and physical health of our children. Thank God that the problem is nothing like as great here as it is in the United States of America—yet. But I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Densen-Gerber yesterday and was shocked by the extent to which the criminal sexual abuse of children has proceeded in the United States. I found it sickening. It made one want to weep.

Dr. Densen-Gerber showed how these crimes were promoted, encouraged and extended by pornographic material, photographic and textual, involving children from the ages of 3 to 14. For her, the matter was—as it should be for us—not one of obscenity, the definition of which is so difficult. It was a matter of a vicious, organised crime involving mutilation, physical and moral, of tens of thousands of children. What struck me in particular about her address—evidently it struck Congress. too—was her contention that the sexually abused child is damaged even more grievously than the physically abused and deprived child. The latter will grow up seeking love and affection, though it may not always find it—while the former will have been taught instinctively to repel affection when it is shown because of the memory of pain and shock.

The sexually abused child of today—this is what should weigh so heavily with all of us—is the problem adult of tomorrow, unable to give love, rejecting a normal, warm, human relationship, the prostitute, the alcoholic, as I know only too well from another area of my work, and the failure. There is also the physical consequence. This brilliant, gifted, experienced lawyer and doctor told us that young girls who have pre-pubescent intercourse have the highest incidence of cervical carcinoma of all women in the age group 20 to 30. That is a measure of the cost of this filthy trade.

How right the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson) was to say that the penalties prescribed in the Bill are inadequate. Dr. Densen-Gerber went on to say something which I do not think has been mentioned so far today. She asserted that 44 per cent. of the women presenting for treatment at the National Institute of Drug Abuse were cross-generational incest victims—75 per cent. before they were aged 13, 45 per cent. before they were 9, and 25 per cent. with their mothers' knowledge. There is, too, a definite relationship between incest and the young female and subsequent anti-social behaviour and acting out. Thus those who destroy children in this way are guilty of murder and worse, because the harm that is done is automatically spread, and those who publish this material and make money out of it are accessories to murder.

I was not surprised that the new American law lays down massive fines—15 years for the first offence and 25 years for the second. I hope that the suggestion of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, who speaks with knowledge of the laws of this country, that the penalties in the Bill should be increased, will be taken up in Committee. The punishment which Congress has seen fit to impose matches the gravity of the crime.

I have not yet had any answer to the query which I raised earlier concerning the text of material, either in child pornography or adult magazines. I am told by psychiatrists that this can be more explicit, more brutal, more perverted than photographs or films. The text is associated with any picture of a child, even if the picture is not actually indecent. The Minister of State suggested that this material was difficult to find. That is nonsense. I will supply him with one such publication which is on sale in a bookshop not more than a couple of miles from this House. It is revolting in content. Its purpose is to describe not merely the seduction of a child but how to encourage the child to seduce others. Yet it is only textual material.

I find it very difficult to understand why, between my hon. Friend and the Minister of State, with his enthusiasm for action in this field, it has been decided not to deal with this sort of matter. It must be left to a high-powered committee from which no legislation is likely to flow for three or four years. The fact that pornographic material may not be produced in this country may be important but it is immaterial. What matters is the use to which any such material is put by the person who obtains it in the locality in which he operates.

Mr. Bradford

The object of the Bill is to remove the possibility of exploitation and the consequences of that exploitation, but the persons who write about these aberrations involving children are themselves adults and they need to be nailed under new obscenity laws.

Sir B. Braine

I would not quarrel with the hon. Gentleman for one moment. He is right. But if the House is concerned with the protection of children, we should not be asked to wait until the Williams Committee has pronounced, because that means that we shall be waiting for three or four years, during a period when the market may have been closed in the United States and the porn merchants are moving in here.

I am merely expressing my disappointment. The Bill is a good step in itself, a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. There is also a growing tendency in adult sex magazines to describe sexual activity with children by means of pictures of young adults dressed up to look like children. Such materials should be dealt with, too. It is part of the same filthy conspiracy against the moral and physical health of our children, because it suggests a permissiveness—an attitude of mind—which is becoming accepted. Yet such material is not covered in the Bill.

We know that this scene is becoming blurred. As the House knows, I, too, have some connection with the police. For well over 12 years I have helped to advise senior police officers—not the Police Federation. I know of their concern. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) spoke of the submission that the Sexual Law Reform Society is making to the Williams Committee that the age of consent should be reduced to 14—[Interruption.] I am not making any accusations. I am merely making a statement of fact.

Mr. John

The hon. Gentleman is not making a statement of fact. That submission is being made to the Criminal Law Revision Committee, under Lord Justice Lawton.

Sir B. Braine

Agreed. But the correction does not alter the sense of what I am saying. I am talking about the atmosphere in which these matters are being discussed. The Minister of State need not shake his head, because he knows perfectly well that there are bodies in this country that are agitating day in and out to widen the area of permissiveness.

I repeat that evidence is being given by the Sexual Law Reform Society advising that there should be a reduction in the age of consent to 14. I go further. The Paedophile Information Exchange is also giving evidence. It wishes to legalise sexual behaviour between adults and a consenting child—whatever that may mean—down to the age of 4. That body is giving in evidence to the same committee. [Interruption.] If the Minister of State provokes me I shall go through the whole list and name the organisations, some of which receive Home Office grants. If he provokes me I shall go into the matter in considerable detail. There is time for me to do so. The hon. Gentleman is not on very firm ground. This is not a laughing matter. I advise the hon. Gentleman not to laugh at this.

The fact is that in this country there are bodies—the hon. Gentleman knows of their existence—which are seeking to tear down the fabric of our society to tear down the protection that our children enjoy today, flimsy though that structure may be, so that there is necessity for a Bill of this type.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)

Will my hon. Friend, while he is considering this matter, consider a further point? In Scotland we have a law which covers these matters. In England attempts are now being made to cover it. That is important, but let us not forget that if one blocks a hole the waters will try to come up somewhere else. There must be a total attitude throughout all countries to make sure that this is not an excuse for breaking the law in other ways.

Sir B. Braine

Those are very wise words and are characteristic of my hon. and learned Friend.

In spite of the criticism that I have voiced about my hon. Friend's Bill, it is at least the beginning of a new chapter in this terrible story. It is a short but essential step in the right direction. I hope that the Bill can be strengthened in Committee, and I am now tempted to urge that I be put on the Committee so that I can watch the Minister of State. There can be nothing quite as important—let us end on a note of complete agreement—as the safeguarding of the most precious asset any nation can possess—its pride and its joy, its children.

Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Everyone who has spoken so far has been in favour of the Bill. Many of us have been in the Chamber and are in favour of the Bill, but at this late hour in the debate we shall be unable to speak. Would it be in order for me to move the closure?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I would not be prepared to accept such a motion for the moment.

Mr. Mellish

At any rate, it is on the record.

3.48 p.m.

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

In a recent radio interview on London Broad-castings the hon. Member for Bexley-heath (Mr. Townsend) was asked the same question as the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) put as to why the hon. Member had limited the Bill. I listened carefully to what he said on that occasion and he satisfied me as to the serious reasons for that limitation in the legislation he is proposing. I believe that he has explained on various occasions why he has decided to do so, and I believe that he was right.

At the same time, I have followed the policy of the Home Office on these matters for some considerable time, and it is not necessary for the hon. Gentleman to imply any criticism of the Home Secretary's attitude in order to support or strengthen support for his Bill. I find the attitude of the Home Office satisfactory. It was right for my hon. Friend the Minister of State to make the general points he made today because it is the function of the Department of State involved to look at the wider picture. I would have had far less confidence in the administration of the Home Office had Ministers not taken this opportunity to initiate a survey of the existing law and its effectiveness whilst giving support to the Bill.

There are, of course, very good grounds for saying, as my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemitson) has said, that many supporting this Bill will have no part in any attempted campaign that might be launched in this country to bring about a general movement for censorship. But I think that that point ought to be coupled with another equally significant point. I believe that it is particularly incumbent on all those hon. Members who, over a number of years, have supported liberalising legislation to be very much on our guard to see to it that that tendency which has developed over several years does not become an excuse for the kind of publications that we are all condemning today.

I want to make my position on this matter definitely clear. Having been a supporter, and remaining a supporter, of this liberalising legislation, I have felt for a number of years now that warnings have been appearing, and they have to be met by action by the Government and this House. No one should misunderstand that any attempt to exploit for purely financial purposes distinctly immoral publications has anything to do with the fight for freedom of publication, freedom of association and freedom of opinion.

My final point, which is equally important is that there will be widespread support for the purposes of the Bill. The hon. Member for Bexleyheath has given a good service to all of us and to the country by giving a signal in which we can all join, whatever details have to be added and whatever wider legislation has to be introduced. He has given us that opportunity, and for that he deserves well of the House.

3.51 p.m.

Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)

I shall not detain the House for more than a few moments. The best that any supporter of the Bill can do is to let it have its Second Reading as quickly as possible. However, I want to make one or two comments.

I am heartened by the fact that we have today a Private Member's Bill which deals with the moral quality of the nation. It is a little different from some of the legislation that we have had in the past. It so happens that it is 11 years, almost to the day, since the House gave a Second Reading to a Bill to provide free contraceptives to everyone, irrespective of age or marital status. The House gave its approval to that Bill on a Friday. It is important to mention that, because there was only one voice raised against it, and that was the voice of the hon. Member for South-end, East. I am sure that there were others who would have been opposed to that so-called liberalisation had they known about it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) is to be congratulated on having got the Press and the media on his side to publicise what the Bill is about, so that the consciences of the people of this country might be disturbed and that hon. Members could be persuaded to turn up on a Friday to support his excellent Bill.

I am sorry that the Press does not interest itself more often in these moral issues and so try to revive this nation.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).