HC Deb 13 May 1993 vol 224 cc926-7
6. Dr. Spink

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to complete his current review of the operation of the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

Mr. Jack

My right hon. and learned Friend hopes to be in a position to announce the conclusions of that exercise shortly. It will lay particular emphasis on ways in which the enforcement of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 can be made more effective.

Dr. Spink

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, and I am pleased that he is considering ways to prevent that degrading material from escaping the law. How will his review impact on "Juliet", a book which our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister described recently as "truly horrifying" and which the Attorney-General refused to prosecute because of the deficiencies in the 1959 Act?

Mr. Jack

My hon. Friend has taken a leading part in drawing the attention of the House to such matters and will know that they are for the Crown Prosecution Service. I remind him that, in 1991, there were 218 successful prosecutions under section 2 of the Obscene Publications Act. As far as the weight of our review is concerned, we want to hit the pockets of pornographers hard, and to make the operation of the Act more effective. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, however, a full-scale review of all the problems of the 1959 Act, which my hon. Friend knows well, is not necessarily the best way to achieve what he wants.

Mr. Alton

Does the Minister accept that obscenity, in its widest sense, also includes violence? As he knows, the dissemination of violence is widespread, especially through television programmes—many of which are broadcast before the watershed—and soaps, which broadcast incest, murder and all sorts of violence as though they were part of everyday living. That sort of obscenity also needs to be examined in the context of his review. Now that more than 100 Members from many parts of the House have signed an early-day motion calling for an inquiry into the link between television violence and violence in society, does he not think that that sort of review is urgently needed?

Mr. Jack

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have noted from public statements made by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary that we take what he said very seriously, and I associate myself with those comments. Yesterday, I was in discussion with the Video Standards Council, which said much the same as the hon. Member. One of the little known facts about the 1959 Act is that the term "corrupt and deprave" can apply equally to violence and to pornographic material.

Mrs. Ann Winterton

While I note that my hon. Friend and his Department have resisted calls for a fundamental review of the 1959 Act and are merely considering its enforcement, will he take it from me that that will not bring about the success—a change in the law—that he has said he wants? Does he accept that he will have to review the test of obscenity in the 1959 Act, that unless he does so no other legislation will be as strong as he would wish, and that it is about time that the Government undertook a fundamental review and brought before the House changes to improve and strengthen the outdated and flawed Obscene Publications Act?

Mr. Jack

My hon. Friend is right to use the word "outdated" in her question. Because of the exhibition that she helped to stage in the House, she knows that pornography is being disseminated by new high-tech means and by information technology, and those are the areas that we must hit hard; improving the effectiveness of the operation of the 1959 Act is one of the best ways to deal with that. She will also know that the Government have a long-standing commitment that, if someone introduced workable alternative through private Members' legislation—the 1959 Act was such a piece of private Members' legislation—we would consider it very carefully.