HC Deb 22 July 1993 vol 229 cc489-91
4. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any plans to review the provisions of the Obscene Publications Acts.

6. Mrs. Ann Winterton

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent representations he has received concerning the working of the Obscene Publications Acts.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Peter Lloyd)

We are not reviewing the central provisions of the present law on obscenity, but we are examining ways in which to make existing legislation work effectively. We continue to receive representations on the general subject from hon. Members and others.

Mr. Winterton

A unique twinning, Madam Speaker.

Does my hon. Friend agree with me and with the Prime Minister that the book "Juliette" by the Marquis de Sade, which glorifies child abuse and murder, is "truly horrific"? As the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Attorney-General have said that no prosecution is possible because no conviction could be guaranteed, will my hon. Friend and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary come to the House as soon as possible to announce an amendment to the Obscene Publications Act 1964, something which is long overdue?

Mr. Peter Lloyd

It is a very nasty book, but it is for the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide whether to bring forward a prosecution. The law that my hon. Friend complains of explicitly states that it is the harm that the material can do that is the nature of the offence. I do not believe that there is any form of words that could improve the law to deal with the case.

Mrs. Ann Winterton

Will my hon. Friend take time next Tuesday to watch "The Cook Report", which exposes the evil, secretive and lucrative trade in computer pornography? Will he tell the House what actions he intends to take to review the obsolete test of obscenity and also the Obscene Publications Act 1964, which forces the police to operate against the vile trade with one hand tied behind their backs?

Mr. Lloyd

We are looking carefully and urgently at the subject of computer pornography. The systems that are on sale and that can be exchanged come under the present law. We are also examining whether self-constructed systems come under the law.

Ms Lynne

Does the Minister support the introduction of custodial sentences for the possession of child pornography, because at the moment some people who possess child pornography are given minimal fines?

Mr. Lloyd

The effect of the law in that area is one of the things that we are looking at and is at the top of our list.

Mr. Lewis

Does the Minister agree that the most pernicious form of pornography in recent years has been that which has been communicated through the telephone service following the Telecommunications Act 1984? Does he welcome the measures that have been proposed by the independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services and Oftel?

Will the Minister also note that the pornographers are putting together a fighting fund which they reckon will total about £1 million to fight the proposals? Will the Government take note of that and, when the matter subsequently reaches a public debate, will they do something about it?

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman has taken an interest in the matter for a long time. The law is being examined with great care and the hon. Gentleman knows that the codes of practice are currently being revised also.

Mr. Alison

Does my hon. Friend recognise that the test for obscenity—that the material has a tendency to deprave and corrupt—shows that, objectively, there is a fearful latent detriment in pornography? Since the test clearly is not stopping the damage of pornography, will my hon. Friend reconsider the proposition that there is no need to supplement the test with a further and more effective one?

Mr. Lloyd

We have examined the law and there have been a number of private Member's Bills on the matter. My right hon. Friend clearly stated that the test is whether the material will deprave and corrupt, or do actual harm. That is what the test is all about. It is essentially the same test as we have had since 1868. It was regarded by many people as over-effective for 100 years, but people now say that it is under-effective. What my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members must realise is that jury attitudes have changed. I do not believe that we can compensate for that by changing the wording of the law. We are willing to consider any suggestions for improvement.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Does the Minister accept that tinkering with the edges of law will not deal with the problem? While we recognise that the matter relates to the moral climate, is not it true that the Government and their advisers are not prepared to tackle the problem?

Mr. Lloyd

The Government are anxious to tackle the problem. The hon. Gentleman should suggest a better test. The problem, as I have stated twice from the Dispatch Box, is that material that the hon. Gentleman and I and other hon. Members may think of as obviously harmful is often not thought harmful by juries.

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