HL Deb 05 May 1978 vol 391 cc535-80

11.26 a.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. My Lords, first may I say how glad we are that the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Guildford will be making his maiden speech in this debate, and we look forward to hearing him. On two occasions at Question Time in your Lordships' House, I have sought reassurance from the Government that there should be no further legislation, particularly relating to children, but rather that there should be consolidation of existing laws. On 1st March this year, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor gave reassurance on this point. It may therefore seem strange to your Lordships that I should be introducing the Protection of Children Bill in your Lordships' House today.

I do so, first, because I believe that this short Bill, which nevertheless means so much for the wellbeing of children, is urgently required now to fill a gap in the law; and, secondly, because a new situation is likely to arise following the amendment to the American Child Protection Act to which President Carter put his name in February of this year. Thirdly, not even for a day should the exploitation of a single child for sexual and pornographic purposes be allowed to continue in this country.

This Private Member's Bill had its Second Reading in the other place on 10th February. I would wish to pay tribute to the honourable Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Cyril Townsend) for the deep concern that he showed for the protection of children which led him to make wide-ranging inquiries and to devote much time looking into, to use his own words, "this distasteful subject".

It was cause for concern when, owing to an unfortunate incident in another place, the Bill could have fallen. The Prime Minister, sensing the widespread support for the Bill by Members of all Parties, enabled the Bill to receive its Committee stage in the other place. Amendments were tabled in the other place, but not debated. These will be debated in your Lordships' House.

This Bill is a children's Bill. It is not a Bill directed primarily against obscenity; it is a Bill to safeguard children. It seeks to prevent the exploitation of children—and by "children" is meant children under the age of 16. The nub of the Bill lies in Clause 1 which deals with indecent photographs and films of children. Any person who takes or makes an indecent film or photograph is guilty of an offence, whether or not the offence is committed for gain and whether or not it is committed in public or in private. The possession of such material, whether imported from other countries or made in this country, is an offence. It is laid down in this Bill that no proceedings should be instituted except by the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. A person convicted under this Bill would be liable to a fine not exceeding £10,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or both. The Bill leaves to the courts the decision as to what is indecent.

In his speech in another place Mr. Cyril Townsend said—and I quote: If I were pressed to say what I consider to be indecent I would fall back on the famous legal definition of the noble and learned Lord, the late Lord Reid, who stated: It includes anything which an ordinary, decent man or woman would find to be shocking, disgusting and revolting '". My Lords, where is the gap in the law? First, the Indecency with Children Act 1960 deals only with children under 14 years of age. The 14 to 16 year olds are not protected. Secondly, there are other Acts dealing with offences against the person, assault and sexual interference, but none of these Acts deals with a child who is not touched but is used as a model for pornographic photography or films. I should say that the taking of pornographic photographs or being photographed may incite a child or adult to sexual interference. At this later stage, but not before, there are other laws to be invoked. Thirdly, there are publications which I have seen which are made in other countries, mostly Denmark and Western Germany, which are imported, passed round and sold in this country, but which are not caught by the Obscene Publications Act 1959. I will return to this point later.

What chain of events has highlighted the need for this Bill? As I said earlier, 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 pornography. This was achieved largely due to research and investigation on the part of Dr. Densen-Gerber, a doctor, lawyer and psychiatrist, working at the Odyssey Institute in New York. The findings of her research were deeply disturbing. There is not the time to go into this: suffice it to say that the use of children for pornographic films or photographs was emotionally damaging to those children.

The production of pornographic magazines involving children is big business, running, it is estimated, to millions of dollars in the United States. Now, as from last February, this market is no longer available and it is reasonable to suppose that the British merchants of child pornographic magazines will seek to develop their own lucrative markets in this country using British children even more extensively than has been done in the past. Your Lordships will ask why the import of such magazines is not dealt with by the Customs and Excise. I have learned that much of a is material comes in—for instance, to quote one example—in big meat container lorries and, by the very nature of these means, the Customs and Excise officers cannot hope to catch the material so imported. There is a chain of underground distributors who are careful to have only 10, 20 or perhaps 30 copies in their cars, should they be inspected or their cars looked at. Clause 1(1)(c) and Clause 3 could deal with this situation.

I come to the magazines and glossies, some of which I have said are imported from abroad, some of which are compiled in this country. Of the hard porn magazines—by that I mean those which come within the late Lord Reid's definition —there is Children Love, printed abroad—and the copy I saw was bought in Waltham-stow. There is Juicy Teens, printed in America, which costs £3, bought in Soho. There is Lolita, printed in Holland, which costs £5.50, bought in Birmingham and Liverpool, and Sweet Patty, printed in Denmark, a copy of which was bought in Kingston in Surrey.

I know that many family photographers are worried about the Bill for fear that they should be caught within its orbit. In a letter to The Times, printed on 15th February this year, Professor Ivor Mills wrote: Let us not enact a law which will make normal parents liable to prosecution or, worse still, open to blackmail If Lord Reid's definition was applied, photographs and films by parents could surely be ruled out. Thus parents, relatives and friends taking delightful photographs of their children in the garden or on the beach could rest assured that the Bill would not affect them.

I now turn to those who produce these child pornographic photographs and films. We should perhaps look at two categories. First, there are those who sexually exploit children by taking these photographs or films, or arrange for them to be taken, or purchase them, or distribute them for financial gain. It is big business, and the porn organisers are smooth operators. The Chicago Tribune reported that child pornography and child prostitution have been highly organised into a multimillion-dollar industry, operated on a scale that few Americans have begun to comprehend.

Secondly, there is child pornography in this country which is—or has often been—private business: just one passing a photograph to another. Now there is evidence that pornographic magazines concerning children are produced in this country for gain. In Greater Manchester in 1977, 162,581 books, magazines and films were seized, with an estimated total value of £445,000.25p. Five per cent. of these books related to child pornography. Children as young as seven were shown in photographs having sexual intercourse with adults or each other, masturbating, and performing buggery. Of the 5 per cent. which related to child pornography, one quarter were reported to be home produced.

These figures show that the situation in this country may not be as widespread as in the United States, but I remind your Lordships that the United States porn commercial enterprises will be looking for new markets. These magazines cost from £3 to £8 each. I suppose it could be said that the commercial operators are the equivalent of the pushers in the drug industry.

There are others who possess and pass round "kiddy" porn. I quote from The Times of 20th February this year: There are those who prefer sensuality without the emotional complexities of an adult relationship. He or she, themselves immature people, use a child for sexual satisfaction In my experience as a social worker, some of these people—though not all—have themselves had childhoods devoid of the maturing effect of wise parenthood. I suggest that compassion rather than outright condemnation should be the attitude to this group. However, compassion for those unable, or who do not choose, to establish normal relationships should most surely not amount to accept- ance of sexual exploitation of children as a substitute. An understanding of such immature people and the upholding of values are surely not incompatible. From what I have said, I would not wish it to be thought for one moment that I tolerate the curious and distasteful activities of the paedophiles. I only wish to make the point that one must try to understand the causes in order to eradicate such activities.

Finally, we come to the children who are the central concern of the Bill. To know what is happening to them, Mr. Townsend has allowed me to see his papers, so that, through him, I have been helped by welfare organisations, the NSPCC, the National Abuse Campaign and the Festival of Light. I should add that 1½ million people have signed the petition calling for a change in the law. An action group has called for a ban on the sexual exploitation of children. We are grateful to the Press for the sympathy which it has shown, and I personally am particularly indebted to the Daily Mirror for the help which it has given to me, to the Thames Valley Police and, as I said before, to the NSPCC.

What of the children? It has been said that, before the passing of this Act, we should wait for the report of the Williams Committee, which is looking into the obscenity laws and film censorship. It would in any other set of circumstances make sense but not in this situation. The children who may be exploited cannot wait. I hope that the Williams Committee will take note of the Bill and regard it as a springboard and that it will make recommendations to amend, expand or change it if the Bill is not fulfilling the purpose for which it is intended or if circumstances alter.

The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, will tell you of a child who has been exploited and whose mother she has met. Research and ordinary human sense indicate that a child wisely loved by its parents and relatives, and by the members of the community in which he lives has an image of himself which is an image of worth, of dignity and of a person loved and respected in his own right. When he is sexually exploited, his image is changed and diminished. His self-regard is stolen from him and he does not know what has been stolen. His life is slanted to sexuality without the accompanying human relationships.

Life does not stand still. With the changed texture of feelings within and without, it has been shown by research in America that sexually exploited children may move to drugs, some to child prostitution and certainly to a life of hopelessness because the respected self-image has gone. A sin has been committed against the mind, the emotions and the spirits of a child and it is for such children that the Bill comes before your Lordships' House. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a(Baroness Faithfull.)

11.45 a.m.


My Lords, I know that all noble Lords would want me to express at once to the noble Baroness our very real gratitude to her for undertaking the responsibility of introducing this Bill into your Lordships' House and of piloting it on its course through the House, at the same time expressing our congratulations to her for the extremely able and helpful way in which she has introduced its provisions to us today.

This Bill will no doubt receive a Second Reading today; I hope it does. It will then go into Committee stage. It is my hope that when it emerges from its Committee stage it will be very substantially amended, and that it will then be capable of being a modest contribution towards the plugging of a small gap in our criminal law. I see nothing in the Bill to warrant the slightly off-putting wave of hysterical enthusiasm with which it has been greeted outside your Lordships' House. I do not regard the Bill as being in any way a substantial step forward in the war against pornography or in the battle against the permissive society; nor do I regard it, on the other hand, as being a substantial step in the direction of censorship or towards a repressive society. It is a Bill that is designed to deal with one particular problem and it should, I think, be the concern of your Lordships, in looking at the Bill, at a later stage to ensure that it does that adequately and efficiently.

The Bill raises the whole question of the exploitation of children for the purposes of sexual gratification. This is not a new discovery. This is an age-old problem. It is not in the least surprising that in those circumstances there is a substantial amount of legislation that deals with precisely the problem with which this Bill seeks to deal. The noble Baroness has mentioned already the provisions of the Customs and Excise Act 1952, which seek to prevent the importation into this country of indecent material. The provision is there, but I accept entirely what the noble Baroness says, that in the very nature of things that provision cannot always be effective, and that as a result a quantity of indecent material comes into this country from abroad. Once that material comes into the country it is then subject at once to the provisions of the Obscene Publications Acts 1959 and 1964.

If your Lordships will forgive me, I will remind you just for a moment of the position under those Acts which are already on the Statute Book. If a pornographic photograph is taken of a child then under those Acts that are already on the Statute Book any person who published it would commit a criminal offence, whether he did this for gain or not, as would a person who had it for publication for gain, or with a view to publication had it in his ownership, possession or control. The word "publish" is defined very widely in the Act as meaning distribute, circulate, sell, let on hire, give, lend, offer for sale or to hire, show, project and various other verbs of that sort.

So the position is this. If one looks at Clause 1 of this Bill in its present form one sees that, with one comparatively small exception, all the people who could commit an offence under Clause 1 of this Bill in fact come into the categories of people who would commit an offence under the Obscene Publications Act.

The Earl of LONGFORD

May I interrupt the noble Lord? He is quoting to some extent from the Act, but not wholly. He is paraphrasing the Act and giving it an interpretation, if I may say so respectfully, which is all his own.


My Lords, I have not been paraphrasing the Obscene Publications Acts; I have been quoting them with precision, word for word.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, will the noble Lord quote the passage about the photographing of children in that Act?


I did not hear the noble Earl, my Lords.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, will the noble Lord quote the passage about the photographing of children in that Act?


Indeed, my Lords. I was only seeking for the moment to show that, if there were an obscene photograph of a child, that would be covered by the Obscene Publications Act in almost the same detail as in this present Bill now before your Lordships' House. We shall no doubt be assisted in due course by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, who, with rather more research facilities at his disposal than I have, might be able to help your Lordships about this. The only practical distinction that I can see between the Bill now before your Lordships' House and the Obscene Publications Act is that the Bill before your Lordships' House would catch the photographer who took pornographic photographs of children for his own private purposes. My Lords, that, as I see it, is the gap in the criminal law. It is the gap that was pointed out in the case of The Queen v. Sutton. It is the gap with which this Bill will deal. Because of that, I welcome this Bill. I say so at once, because it helps to deal with that particular gap.

To what extent this is a very substantial gap I venture to doubt. In the very nature of pornographic photographs, they are taken by the photographer for his, own private amusement, and he does not even seek, in the terms of the Obscene Publications Act, to publish them to his own friends. But there is a gap in the law. As I have said, this was indicated in the case of The Queen v. Sutton and it is, I believe, that gap with which this Bill deals.

Even where the photographer is taking an obscene photograph for his own private purposes, he may very well be caught by other provisions of the criminal law. If he ventures to touch the child in any circumstances of indecency, that would be an indecent assault under the Sexual Offences Act. If the child were under 14 and, for the purposes of the photograph, were incited to commit an act of indecency with another child, with an animal or with an adult—whatever it might be—that would be an offence under the Indecency with Children Act 1960.

I would not want it to be thought that, in the year 1978, a vast area of abuse of children for sexual purposes had suddenly been discovered, having remained unknown to the criminal law in past years. It simply is not so. What has happened is that there is this one gap where a person is taking photographs for his own private amusement, and with this the Bill will deal. To what extent the gap is a significant one will, I think, remain to be seen, but it is certainly one with which it is worth dealing in the course of this Bill.

I find it very difficult personally to estimate how much of this "kiddy porn", as it is being called, is in fact around in this country. I know that estimates are made by loquacious chief constables. Estimates are sometimes made by other people who are equally loquacious. If I may bring myself into that category for a moment, I can only venture to say that I have had the misfortune to be involved in court in one way or another in a substantial number of cases where pornographic literature by the ton has been produced. It may be entirely my good fortune, and I expect it is, that I cannot recall a single case in which obscene photographs of children have been involved. I accept that those photographs do, of course, exist and magazines circulate, but I would not want it to be thought that your Lordships' House was exaggerating the extent of the danger at this stage.

In that situation, your Lordships will in due course want to come to consider this Bill on Committee, and I would not want to make points more suitable to a Committee stage today. We would want to look in due course at Clause 1 which uses the test of indecency, rather than the test of obscenity which is the test in the Obscene Publications Act. This is a matter which I think would need to be looked at with some care. I suppose that indecency is a rather lesser standard of dirtiness, if I may use that expression, than obscenity. I suppose that indecency means liable to shock or outrage, whereas obscenity means calculated to deprave or corrupt.

Whether, in leaving Clause 1 as it stood, we would thereby be amending the Obscene Publications Act by a rather backdoor method, is a matter that your Lordships will no doubt want to continue to consider in due course. Personally I am a little unhappy about the use of the word "indecent". I think there are far too many people outside your Lordships' House who have a sort of fig-leaf mentality and who blush a bright crimson whenever they stand in front of any of the masterpieces of European painting or sculpture, and who would regard any such representations of the human form as being indecent within the terms of this Bill. That is a matter which will have to be looked at.

I would suggest that Clause 1(4), which deals with the question of the age of the child photographed, is not at the moment very aptly expressed. One might think that Clause 3, which deals with the powers of seizure and destruction, is quite excessively and unnecessarily wide. Clause 4(b) deals with possible defence to a charge under the Bill which I would suggest is not very happily expressed and might be substantially improved. Those are all matters of detail that can be looked at in due course.

My conclusion, if I may put it in a sentence, is simply this: that of course I would accept entirely that it is possible for a photographer, by the taking of filthy photographs of this nature, to corrupt a child model. Therefore it is right that this Bill should deal with that problem. We are dealing with it from the point of view of preserving and protecting the child, not from the point of view of protecting the ultimate onlooker who may decide that he wants to purchase the magazine and look at the photographs.

Looking at the existing law, it seems to me that the overwhelming majority of cases of pornographic photographs of children are perfectly adequately dealt with, but I entirely accept that there is this one gap; there are a few cases which are outside the provisions of the law as it at present stands. I venture to minimise the number of those few cases. May I say of course that. I do not minimise their importance. I would entirely accept that, in a sense, the number is not important in this context. The saving of the well- being of a few children, however few it might be, is a matter very properly of the greatest possible importance.

For those reasons, I would venture to hope that that is an abuse which your Lordships will find it possible to deal with perfectly adequately in this Bill by amending it at an appropriate stage when your Lordships come to deal with it subsequently.

11.59 a.m.


My Lords, I should like from these Benches unreservedly to welcome this Bill which I, along with many other noble Lords, believe is definitely needed. I should also like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Faithful], for her very good exposition of the Bill and the need for it. I, too, would like to thank Mr. Cyril Townsend for working so hard to get this Bill brought to the Statute Book. It has, after all, had a rather chequered career in another place and got off to a false start.

Before coming to the Bill, may I say how very much I am looking forward to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate, as I am sure it will be something that we shall all wish to remember. I was rather disappointed, and somewhat saddened, to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, whom I admire immensely, not only as a friend. I felt that he was taking an attitude which was rather complacent, and also one that very much played down the need for this Bill.

At this stage, I should like to run over in a very brief fashion what I believe to be the situation at the moment. I think it would be very wrong, as the noble Lord opposite said, to overstate the situation regarding child pornography in this country. The problem is not so much as it is at the moment, but what it could be. The American laws could have a very drastic effect on the importation of porn into this country and, in some ways, the increasing in size of child porn production in this country.

It is rather interesting to note that no article or speech was made by a Minister before Mr. Richard Luce raised the question in another place some seven months ago. I am not saying that there has been a violent explosion of child porn in this country, but it certainly has been increasing rapidly. This has, I believe, taken place—although I cannot, unfortunately, like so many things, prove this—and has started to grow at an increasing rate over the last two years. At the moment, if one takes the Manchester example, it probably amounts to some 5 per cent. I am sure the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong, and he probably has facts to prove it. But from what I believe, it could amount to around 5 per cent. at the moment. Most of that is probably on male homosexual pictures of boys.

The real problem is that we want to avoid any explosion such as that which took place in the United States—and I think the noble Lord will agree that it did explode in the United States over the past two years, which has resulted in the laws being produced over there. It has had a very worrying effect in America. Figures are subject to doubt, and a number have been given which are perhaps overstated. But the figure of 1 million child prostitutes in the States has been bandied about. This may be on the high side, but there are certainly a great many over there. This number has been swelled to some extent by child pornographic photographs, especially perhaps in Los Angeles. If the noble Lord feels that there are so few, I believe that there are in fact 296 child pornographic magazines in the United States. I am afraid I do not know how many there are here, but there are numbers, possibly under a hundred, in different titles.

One point that should be cited is that the amount of pornographic material that was seized last year by the Metropolitan Police—I am referring to all pornographic material—amounted to 375,484 pieces or articles. Most of these were magazines. However, this figure has leapt to over 1 million pieces seized so far this year, and they are still counting. I am not saying that this is entirely one big jump, because I believe that the main reason for this big increase in seizures has been a direction to seize Briitish-produced pornographic material, but certainly very much more material has been seized so far this year in London than was seized last year. The problem in the States does exist and it has been tied up, as I have said, with child pornography, child prostitution, drug abuse and venereal disease. It has reached such an alarming state that the laws that have been passed have really been quite severe.

My Lords, I will be brief, because I know that there are many speakers who will cover other aspects of this Bill. What I should like to emphasise is that we are most keen that this Bill should be passed. I am the first to agree that changes will have to be made in Committee. I would just add that I am not keen on expanding the Bill to cover the written word, because I feel that the problems of definition are hard enough if it is, and if the written word was put in we might be in danger of losing the Bill altogether.

I should now like to come on to a few aspects of the Bill which I hope the noble Lord could clarify for me. I know that some people feel that, to make it effective, the onus of proof of age should be put on to the publisher. I am told that the Bill or, possibly Amendments, might cover this. I felt that this was perhaps not fully stated, but here I speak as a layman, and I should like to hear more from the Minister on this particular point.

There is also the question of search warrants. I am sure that will be raised later. On this point, it seems that the police have their hands slightly tied at the moment, in that if they apply for a search warrant under the Obscene Publications Act they could not actually search for material which would be covered by this Bill should it become an Act. Then there is the question of films. I feel that there might be an opportunity in this Bill to clarify the situation on search warrants without, perhaps, indulging in tacking. I feel that the situation of the police could be helped over search warrants, and that it would assist the courts as well.

The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, raised the question of parents taking photographs of their children, and that someone might perhaps consider that these were indecent. Obviously this is a problem, and perhaps the Bill at present does not cover it. Therefore, I hope that it is something that will be looked at during the Committee stage.

Finally, I should like to say yet again that I believe this Bill is needed, not so much as the situation is at the moment, but to prevent a situation which might come about. Therefore I should like, from these Benches, to welcome the Bill, and hope that it is given a Second Reading in this House.

12.8 p.m.


My Lords, it may seem at first sight a strange topic on which to make a maiden speech in this House, but I am grateful for the privilege of speaking this morning. I do not speak in any way as an expert on these matters, for social responsibility is not a particular brief which I hold in Church House. I speak rather as someone who, in ordinary, everyday life, has both admiration for and gives support to societies such as the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association, the Responsible Society and the Order for Christian Unity, and who admires them for the work that they do in seeking to maintain high moral standards in our national life. It seems to me that we owe them a great debt for the enthusiasm and the integrity with which they pursue their causes.

If at times their presentation seems somewhat exaggerated, I think that is because of the depth of their caring, and also because often it is only in this way that they are able to claim public attention. I am glad today to be able to play a modest part in supporting one of the causes which they have espoused, and one which has been taken up so vigorously by others in another place, as well as, I anticipate, in this House today.

My Lords, in attacking moral issues, however, it is never entirely simply a question of right versus wrong. Society as a whole always must bear some responsibility for evils within it. We must always be sensitive to the issues of personal freedom and responsibility without which mature and good human relationships cannot grow. I must confess that in this particular matter of child pornography I was at first somewhat anxious lest emotive and exaggerated reactions to it might harm the very people whom the clause was seeking to protect. I thought that excessive publicity might, on the one hand, introduce some to practices and productions of which they would not have been otherwise aware, and, on the other, instil fear and shame in those who were perhaps least able to cope with these pressures. Such a fear could pre- vent many parents from helping their children to acquire that open and positive attitude to sexual relations which is needed for real human maturity.

However, the case for the Bill has been clearly demonstrated both in another place and today through the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. I, for one, am deeply grateful for the lucidity and clarity with which she has made this case. The Bill seeks to protect children from attacks on their integrity which have been shown to be of real substance, and which I hope your Lordships will believe to be so serious and harmful as to call for protection in statute form. Pornography of any kind degrades and diminishes the humanity of those involved in it, whether as producers or consumers, and it is clearly right to protect children from its evil influence in any way possible. It would be inappropriate in a maiden speech to comment on the details of the Bill, but I hope that these will be considered at the Committee stage, and particularly the question of whether the Bill ought to include reference to the text of pornographic literature as well as to the pictures.

I am glad also of this opportunity to put the record straight about the attitude to the Bill of the General Synod Board for Social Responsibility. Your Lordships may recall that The Times of 31st January carried a report that the General Synod was told by the Bishop of Truro, Chairman of the Board for Social Responsibility, that it did not support the Private Member's Bill on child pornography which was being promoted in another place. That was a misleading, because inadequate, report by The Times of the right reverend Prelate's answer to a question in the Synod on the previous evening. On the following day, my noble friend in a personal statement said that his answer had been made in the light of the fact that his Board had not yet had an opportunity to consider the Government's inquiries into this matter. Your Lordships will be glad to know that, at its meeting on 28th February, the Board for Social Responsibility considered the Protection of Children Bill and issued the following statement: The Board reaffirms its opposition to the evil of pornography and the exploitation of children for this purpose. It accepts that there are gaps in the law which the Bill seeks to remove, and for these reasons the Board welcomes the Bill, whose intention it supports. The Board strongly urges Her Majesty's Government to ensure that adequate time is made available for full discussion of the details and its speedy enactment". Your Lordships will, I am sure, be glad to have that information. The Board's statement concurs with Cardinal Hume's words in addressing the same General Synod, which were used to such good effect when the Bill was presented for its Second Reading in another place.

I have spoken to this point in general terms. I hope that your Lordships will now allow me to give two personal reasons why I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. First, it is important that we should stand in line with other advanced communities in outlawing the exploitation of children for pornographic purposes. A particular responsibility lies on countries such as ours and the United States simply because of the facilities which we have for the easy production and circulation of this material. There do not appear to be grounds for thinking that the problem is as widespread here as it is, for example, in the United States, but it is important to heed the warnings of those who suggest that, if these practices are suppressed by law in the United States, those who practise them may turn to English-speaking Britain for the production of pornographic material, and even more to find outlets for its sale.

Your Lordships may recall a similar case last year in which a particular film director was seeking to make a pornographic film of the life of Jesus Christ. He journeyed from country to country in Western Europe, seeking facilities for the production of the film, and it was only because of a united stand by Western governments, often under public pressure, that he was in the end forced to give up his attempt. In this country, we have a proud tradition of giving asylum, but we do not wish to give it to this kind of refugee.

Lastly, and more positively, I support the Bill because lying behind it is the problem of how to secure for children room and time to grow. A person's life passes through clear stages, and it is of the utmost importance that children should have time to enjoy childhood, and thus to acquire that inner treasure of spontaneity, innocence and modesty of which the pornographers, by their actions, rob them. The more mature relationships of adult life find fulfilment only when they are built upon, and grow out of, a secure childhood which has had time to develop warm and loving relationships with others. Truly joyous experience in all its variety, including that of sex, comes most easily when there has been such an unhurried growth in awareness of and response to others.

The Bill seeks to protect those children who are exposed to particular dangers, and it would be easy for us to suppose that, in protecting children from these specific dangers—that is, from those who would exploit them in a pornographic way—we have discharged our duty in this respect. However, we live in a world in which, through the media—and, indeed, through the development of education—children are exposed to experiences and made aware of possibilities in a way which is very different from that of a generation or so ago. Increased leisure and affluence and the heightened expectations of personal relationships all play their part in lowering the age at which children cross the threshold into youth and adulthood. The problems are particularly acute in the inner cities and in areas of poverty, deprivation and bad housing.

All these factors place particular stress on today's children and hurry them too quickly into the world of youth and adulthood. Thus these problems place a heavier responsibility on today's adults. More attention needs to be paid to the problem of securing the widest and most extended time possible for all our children to grow without undue haste towards maturity. For these reasons, I beg to support the Bill.

12.20 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that you will join with me in congratulating the right reverend Prelate very warmly indeed on his maiden speech. As befits an occupant of those Benches, he was clear in voice and mind, and his message was particularly clear. It is a great addition to our discussions, and on a matter of this kind I see no reason why the right reverend Prelate should not regard this as an occasion for making his maiden speech. I dissent from the company he keeps, though I fully endorse the general philosophy and the case for morality in dealing with this difficult and delicate issue. I am sure we shall look forward in future to further contributions from the right reverend Prelate on matters of common concern.

My Lords, I am a case of mistaken identity, which is why my name was deleted from the list of your Lordships who wished to speak. My noble friend Lord Halsbury, for whom I was mistaken, had unfortunately to leave. Probably mine will be the only dissenting speech of the day. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, may have been disappointed with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, but he will be a great deal more disappointed with mine. It does not matter; it is just a point of view. But if your Lordships' House cannot listen to a dissenting voice, then what is the point of it at all?

This is what I would describe as a buffalo Bill. It is a stampede. This is not legislation, this is a rush; and one wonders how it started. What is the evidence upon which these proposals rest? Has the evidence been produced? Has it been examined? Can evidence be distinguished from propaganda and from pressure? If your Lordships want to know where some of this started, I can tell your Lordships.

I have here a cutting from the Catholic Herald of 27th January of this year, and the banner headline is: "Your Child is in Danger, Act Now". "Your child is in danger"—not some children, not other people's children, not American children—"your child is in danger, act now". It asks that people should collect signatures to support the Bill to be given a Second Reading in another place on 10th February. At the bottom it calls upon the Catholic Herald, the Catholic Teachers' Federation and all concerned, including workers in the Catholic Church, to collect signatures on a form and to bombard their MP with letters of protest to protect the children of this country from pornographers. Not "write to your MP", not "approach your MP" —bombard your MP.

This is pressure, my Lords. This is not evidence. This is aggressive pressure upon Members of Parliament, and there has been much more in similar vein in the Press and elsewhere. I do not believe that the evidence that we have had from any noble Lord or the noble Baroness who has spoken this morning, provides the case for this Bill. There are no grounds for this feverish condition, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, I think did a great service to this House this morning in putting this Bill in the context of other provisions to safeguard the people of this country from pornography of all kinds.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Would he not just agree that even if one child is put at risk he should be protected? We know that there are in existence photographs of children taken in pornographic situations. Should those children not be protected?


My Lords, that is not the basis for legislation, if I may respectfully say so. That is not the basis for providing fresh opportunities for raids by the police to ransack bookshops and to intrude upon the personal lives of parents in order to discover one case of alleged abuse of children for pornographic purposes. This is not the basis upon which the laws of England have been constructed. One child may be at risk because of some failure on the part of parents or guardians. It does not require an Act of Parliament to alter the behaviour of some parents: indeed, no Acts of Parliament will alter the behaviour of some parents. No; I think one has to justify this Bill on grounds of the public good and of the protection not of one child but of a lot of children. There is no evidence that has been produced of this.

In the Second Reading speech in another place there was heavy reliance upon the evidence of the chief constable of Manchester, Mr. Anderton, and upon an American lady who came over here, apparently, specially for the purpose, a Dr. Denson-Gerber. With regard to the reference to the Americans, the Americans are our friends. I myself deplore the apparently irresponsible way in which we refer to the moral decadence of people in the United States. Things may not be bad here, we are told, but they are, of course, worse in the United States. Estimates are made in this House of the number of child prostitutes in the United States. On these occasions of pornography we freely use criticisms of Denmark, Holland, friendly countries, and now the United States, to justify steps which we are asked to take to protect our own moral standards. As a matter of fact, the evidence by the chief constable of Manchester that was so heavily relied upon by the Mover of the Bill in another place, turned out to be most unreliable because he was reported as having said—and I am quoting now from column 1831 of the Official Report of another place on 10th February: 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". The Minister of State, Mr. Brynmor John, who made the one sensible speech on the Bill in another place, said—and I quote now from column 1845: 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". So that when the chief constable was asked on the telephone on the day before the debate to provide some evidence of the statement that he was alleged to have made, he had no hard facts to back it up.

I think that it is a strange piece of legislation, giving new discretion, new rights to the police for intrusion upon the lives of the citizens, that has not been examined in detail as to the evidence and justification for it. When one thinks of the committees and the commissions that examine matters of concern and of intricate detail, requiring evidence and witnesses, and upon whose reports little or nothing is done, and here, by contrast, we have a Bill before this House in support of which there is no previous examination of the evidence at all, I think the sensible thing to do would be to refer the Bill to a Select Committee in order that that evidence may be obtained.

When I refer to the strange condition of this Bill coming to your Lordships' House this morning, may I refer to the so-called Committee stage of the Bill in another place. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, said that Amendments were down for the Committee stage but they were not debated. But, strange to relate, the Committee stage of this Bill in another place went through on the nod. There was no Committee stage, despite the fact that the Minister and others in debate drew attention, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, has done this morning, to matters which must require attention during the Committee. The House of Commons provided no such examination of the details of provisions of this Bill in Committee. It has been sent up here without amendment and without debate in the Committee stage of the Bill. This is a very strange procedure in my long experience of this Parliament. One might say in passing that perhaps we are not so useless after all! Indeed, the Home Secretary said, in reply to a Question in another place as to what was to happen to this Bill: As the hon. Member will know, with the co-operation of the Government, the Bill has passed its remaining stages in the House of Commons. We shall assist in putting the Bill into a more workable form during its proceedings in another place ".—[Official Report (Commons), 24/4/78; co1.419.] But the House of Commons made no attempt to put this Bill into workable form at all—none whatever—and I think that that alone is a valid criticism of the manner in which the Bill has been dealt with.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he can give me reasons why that happened in the House of Commons?


My Lords, I can only conclude that the House of Commons was in such a state of mind about the Bill that it wanted to see it on its way. It did not wish to delay the matter any further, and, of course, as it was a Private Member's Bill there were certain risks if it did have a Committee stage in the House of Commons. There was a procedural as well as, I think, an emotive inspiration behind sending this Bill here without examination in Committee. But it shows how unsatisfactory it all is from the point of view of legislation.

As to the Bill itself, I shall be very brief now because much of the Bill must undergo serious consideration. The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, drew attention to one small gap—as he puts it, only one small gap—that this Bill will cover. But, as I understand it, that small gap will cover the behaviour of a parent in relation to his child in private. When the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, said that those who take photographs of their children in the garden will have nothing to fear, can she really be so sure? Has she really examined Clause 1 of the Bill? Has she looked at subsection (2)? A person is guilty of an offence under subsection (1) whether or not the act constituting the offence is committed—

  1. (a) for gain;
  2. (b) in public or in private".
"Whether or not," The governing main clause is a person who takes an "indecent photograph". The taking of the indecent photograph, whether in public or in private, whether or not for gain, is caught within Clause 1.

What about prurient neighbours who see a father taking a photograph, of his child in the garden one afternoon? They say, "Look at that man! He is taking an indecent photograph of his child. Ring up the police. Get them here at once. We will catch him red-handed." Then what happens? The police will have the right of entry. The police will have the right to attempt to recover any other photographs he may have on the premises. They may, in fact, arrest a person. But they cannot charge him, because the Director of Public Prosecutions will decide whether a charge should be brought against him. But the damage may be done. He may wait for months for the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide.

The Chief Constable of Manchester has reported with apparent pride, that his vice squad have raided well over 200 bookshops in the Greater Manchester area and he is very pleased, apparently, that he has put 13 or 14 of them out of business altogether. The police can go in and remove practically the whole of the stock, and in many cases the shopkeeper cannot get his goods back except by application to a court. No charges are made against him. The goods are kept for weeks on end, and the shopkeeper has no remedy except to go to the court for the return of this alleged pornographic material. In the meantime, his business is virtually ruined, and his own state of mind is reduced to that of acute anguish.

Bear in mind that on some occasions the cure can be a great deal worse than the disease. Need I refer to the protection racket of the Soho porn shops and the complete corruption of that section of the Metropolitan Police? I was on the Royal Commission on Standards of Conduct in Public Life. I heard the evidence of the Chief Commissioner. We heard all about this, and we learned what he was doing. When shopkeepers are exposed to the risk of this kind of raid and the irreparable damage that it may do to their business, no wonder rackets begin and pornography flourishes because the police have been given something to refrain from raiding. The raid is the thing which can destroy the livelihood of a shopkeeper and destroy his reputation. But this Bill enables the police to intrude in conditions of far greater domestic intimacy, and I think we have to be careful before we provide for that in a Bill of this kind.

My Lords, I have finished. I think that the plea for caution in adopting further repressive measures, giving further rights to the police, should be observed. We want to be careful that we are not exposing citizens to further inroads into their privacy and their rights as responsible people. If I may say so, hysteria is no condition in which to legislate.

12.38 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and if I compare the speech of my noble friend Lady Faithfull, who spoke quietly, gently, with no great emphasis, backed up by very careful study, putting (as I think she did) the case in a very quiet and gentle way, with the somewhat, perhaps I should not use the word "hysterical" but anyway very, very fierce manner in which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has put his case against this Bill, I think that the accusation of hysteria on our side is possibly a little exaggerated. I do not know about myself—I may get quite hysterical, I cannot say; but most people have put the case very quietly and very gently and have backed it up. If the noble Lord reads Lady Faithfull's speech afterwards I think he will find that there is a great deal of backing for all that she has had to say.

I am sorry to disagree with the noble Lord. He takes tremendous interest in animal welfare, not, by any possible chance, doing anything which can possibly injure or hurt an animal. Apparently he is not nearly as interested in not injuring or hurting a child. It is a funny thing in life. Some noble Lords will have had this experience. If one is trying to raise money for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, one will get far more money for animals than for children. This has happened many times in life. It is just one of those peculiar things, that the British public sometimes has very strange views.

I should like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford on his speech, which I found very interesting. I am so glad to find that, in speaking as he did today, he is giving the support of, I am sure, the majority of his fellow Bishops and of the Synod of the Church of England on this. I am sure I could say the same for the Church of Scotland, and for any people who really care about these matters. I should like also to congratulate Lady Faithfull. As I have said, I thought her presentation of the case was most quiet and most gentle, and really persuasive.

I did not follow what happened in the House of Commons, but I understand that there was some problem with a Member of another place, who took steps on that Friday morning which made it impossible for the Bill to go through, or to be debated, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, would like it to have been debated. I think that we all would like it to have been debated in another place; but it was the wish of a number of MPs, and the encouragement of the Prime Minister who no doubt feels that this is a Bill that he would like to see discussed and debated in both Houses of Parliament. I feel encouraged by the fact that there are people on both sides of the House who will be anxious to see this Bill discussed and passed, albeit with amendments; that we are not disputing.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, who said that any form of cruelty and abuse to children is something that we want to stop. All of us who read history know of the abuses against children that took place in the Victorian age. We all know how abominable the employment of children was in the nineteenth century. It has been done away with, and quite rightly so. But if you find, in the twentieth century, some abuses that have not yet been done away with, or are in fact new, in that the methods used for this photographic pornography of children is new in the sense that it probably has not existed for more than five or six years, surely that is something which is just as important to stop as the abuse of child labour at the age of eight, nine or 10 in the Victorian age.

I did not have the pleasure of meeting the American lady who has succeeded in persuading the American Congress and the Senate representatives to adopt a Bill to stop the pornographic photography and other pornographic horrors perpetrated on children. It is important to realise, as Baroness Faithfull said, that if these loathsome people can make money from their horrible methods, if they cannot make it in America they will try to make it in other countries. I do not want them to be able to make it here in this country.

I have read the Bill with some care. As I understand it, it identifies one of the abuses which, under all the many Acts of Parliament, is not protected. If that is so, I see every reason for backing the Bill. I can speak of one case which was brought to my notice. I shall mention no names, nor make any identifiable remark about it, because I have since learned that the case is sub judice and will be coming up in the courts. I saw the mother of a boy between the age of 13 and 14. This boy had been persuaded by a man connected with the area in which they lived to have photographs taken, advertising sportswear. The boy was very keen on sport and he was offered money to be photographed wearing different kind of sportswear. The boy, quite unsuspectingly, responded. He went to this man, who took photographs of him. When they began to take photographs, he was told to take off his clothes, which he did. The obscene photography which went on after that was most upsetting for the child. He could not get out of it; he was being blackmailed by the man, who threatened him with telling the police and having him up. The case had the most devastating effect on the child and, of course, on his parents. At least a year of the boy's schooling has been wasted because he has been through these terrible experiences. He is now frightened to work with his companions. He is still at school, but he wishes to be separate from all the others. The effect on his mentality has been very detrimental. He is now a year behind in his educational work. This is a very tragic case. It is only one case, I know, but I have seen the woman and I was greatly saddened by what she told me.

If the Bill can do anything to prevent pornographic photography being used, first, to make money, secondly, to frighten children, and, thirdly, to ruin families, because it is very upsetting for the family, then I think that we should definitely back the Bill in order to stop it. This is a subject on which I have never taken up any cases because they have never come my way. I am trying to play everything down, because I agree that one does not want to become hysterical on these matters. But I have seen the texts of the written material which accompany some of these photographs, which are published and distributed privately, and really the texts are worse than the photographs; they are quite awful. I realise that the Bill cannot deal with that because it can be dealt with only under the laws of blasphemy; and the Williams Committee has been given the job of analysing the obscene writing which accompanies some of these revolting publications. But the text can be just as degrading as the photography, judging from the one or two pieces of material which I have been shown.

As I have said, I am not one who has taken any part in problems arising from pornography or obscenity, but I feel very deeply that if we are to stop up a gap in our legislation which could be used for these disgraceful and revolting ends, we are doing something which will protect not only those young people, boys and girls, who have had such an experience but we can take it impossible for anybody to do it in the future. I hope very much that the Bill will go through this House. I should like to see it applied to both Scotland and Northern Ireland, as this problem will not be confined to only one section of the United Kingdom; and if we are to have legislation, I think that it should cover both. Scotland and Northern Ireland. If I can do anything to make that possible, I certainly will. I support the Second Reading of the Bill most wholeheartedly.

12.50 p.m.

The Countess of LOUDOUN

My Lords, I too welcome the opportunity to help the Bill on its way. I think that it is a pity that it is restricted to the filming and photographing of children and it will not put an end to the sale of the co-called "kiddy" porn in this country. We are protecting the children of England and Wales—those we can—as best we can. The Bill will prevent the corruption of these children for profit in this particular way, but it still allows profit to be made from the corruption of children on other countries, by continuing to allow the importation of pornography featuring children. We are supporting their corruption just as surely as if we were actively taking part in it.

When we eat meat, we too take part in the killing of innocent and gentle creatures without ever stepping inside the slaughterhouse. Our money is the force behind the knife. Can we continue to allow the distribution of "kiddy" porn because it is prepacked and imported, because the anguish and slaughter of innocents takes place in another country, when our money is still the driving force behind it? There seems to be a current philosophy—I regret the ugliness of the phrase—that everyone has the right to do his own thing and that no one else has the right to interfere. But freedom to choose for oneself may become, as it does in this case, an interference with another's life, a licence to corrupt.

I have letters criticising my views, but I think that even the extremes of opinion that may be expressed here contribute to the overall soundness of the legislation, showing the edges of argument. I have had letters criticising my right to restrict the freedom of others. As a private person, I have no such right but, as a member of the legislative assembly, we together not only have the right but the responsibility and the obligation. It is for the law to say, "Let freedom take you so far but no further". Pornography has only become a national problem because of the vast profits that can be made. Take away the profits and the problem would nearly disappear. I should like to see a very heavy tax levied on the firms engaged in this trade. I see this Bill as a step in the right direction, small but very welcome.

12.53 p.m.


My Lords, this is the first occasion on which I have spoken on a children's Bill. Before I start, might I join with others in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford on his most clear speech, the example of which I trust we shall have often repeated in the future on other subjects. I came in here with a rather clear mind on this Bill, I thought. The first person who confused it thoroughly was the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder. The second person who rather confused it was the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. I have tried to restore the balance by looking at what the Bill is called, which is the Protection of Children Bill.

Despite what has been said, I must support the Second Reading of this Bill, and I think that my noble friend Lady Faithfull, is to be congratulated for taking it on. One of the things we do not want to happen in this Bill is that we shall produce something here which will become a lawyer's paradise. We are at grave risk, when I listen to these speeches, of producing a Bill which may just fill the lawyers' briefs and advice over the next few years. Nobody can say that this Bill is right. I should like to know from the noble Lord, Lord Harris, regarding the fears which have been expressed—that if we amend the Bill, the Bill will be lost—whether he could assure us that the Government will give it time when it has to return to another place and that time will be given for consideration of what we have said.

So far as the Bill itself is concerned, what worries me about it is this: apart from the fact that I do not feel that we should lay parents open to attack because they take photographs of their children in their gardens, which I think is a normal matter of family life, what is there in the Bill to catch the person who puts the child in the position where it is open to the offences which are in here?

With many members of the public, I have been greatly distressed reading in the media of the enormous number of children who get into great trouble and difficulty, who are nothing to do with family life at all. They are in homes which turn out to be run by people who should never have run homes. Those are the children we want to protect. I would be interested to know under the Bill, if children get exposed to the dangers outlined in the Bill from homes which are run (shall we say?) on behalf of councils or anyone else, whether those people who run those homes come under a body corporate. Are they as responsible for putting children in the position where they can be affected by this Bill or not?

One has read in the media and one has seen on television cases of children who have been taken into care and have been allowed to go out on prostitution. During the course of that, if they have fallen into a situation like this, who will be responsible? This is the Protection of Children Bill. They must be protected from getting into situations where this could happen. I would be interested to know from the noble Lord who answers the debate on this Bill whether this is covered in the Bill as presented. If it is not, I should like to have great thoughts to see how we could amend this Bill to ensure that it is covered. Apart from those few words, I completely support the Bill. Anything we can do to protect children in these days of rather liberal thoughts and actions I think we should do, and I shall heartily support the noble Baroness in the Second Reading.

12.59 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful for having the opportunity to contribute to your debate. Before I do so, may I say how much I appreciated the speech of the right reverend Prelate and how much I learned from his sympathetic approach to the problem. The reading I did in preparation for this debate was something that I would not again undertake lightly. It is not just the nastiness of the material concerned, but rather that it makes one painfully aware of one's own vulnerability. The Bible quite rightly warns us that all men's hearts contain evil and mine is certainly no exception. I stand in need of the Lord's redeeming love just as much as anyone else. The particular danger of pornographic material is that it can bring that evil to the surface and set it loose.

I welcome this Bill because it recognises that boys and girls under 16 need protection from those who would exploit their vulnerability and abuse their trust. May T join in thanking those who identified the gap in the law protecting children in this respect, those who alerted and mobilised public opinion and those who reacted to this by assisting the passage of the Bill so far. May I take this chance to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, for the way in which she introduced the Bill.

It is right that the Bill should be restricted to its present scope, and we should not be wise to try to extend it. But we should be clear that it deals with only one small part of the problem of child pornography. I should like to offer a few thoughts, I hope in a helpful way, on some of the points not covered by the Bill to which attention must be given if it is not to be just a finger-in-the-dyke kind of operation.

The massive increase in pornographic material throughout the Western world and the consequent emergence of child pornography in the United States and in Western Europe have given rise to widespread alarm and outrage in this country, although I doubt whether many of the one and a half million people who signed the petition calling for action against child pornography realised quite how beastly the material concerned is. There are two main areas on which action is needed—and needed well before the Williams Committee can possibly report and subsequent legislation can be enacted. I look upon the Williams Committee and all that goes with it as a long-term operation. Now that other countries, notably the USA, have acted effectively against child pornography—this is not a criticism of the United States or of other countries; quite the reverse—this country can expect to be the target in the very near future.

First, as has been emphasised, the Bill is concerned only with the protection of children who might be abused in the production of pornography. It does not prevent the corruption of child readers and the stimulation of those who might want to molest children. These problems are outside the Bill, and children will still be unprotected in these respects. Secondly, the Bill is not concerned with textual material, which can be just as vile and graphic, and—should it be possible to identify the child—just as damaging to him or her.

These two points raise the whole question of the adequacy of the laws on obscenity and in particular the Obscene Publications Act 1959. That Act dealt with obscenity, and the problems that it has run into appear to arise from the definition of obscenity, which many would say has not provided a satisfactory control. Indeed, the very existence of the Williams Committee speaks for itself. There is a case for considering further legislation on these aspects on an interim basis and in advance of the Williams Committee Report.

It would be reassuring to know that the Government will consider these matters urgently and will not hesitate to introduce or to support interim legislation on these questions. The present controls can, of course, be made more effective at local level by chief constables who can allocate sufficient men and resources so that magistrates can regularly rule on the obscenity material on sale, and order its confiscation and destruction under Section 3 of the 1959 Act. This has been done with effect by the Chief Constable of Manchester. Of course, these questions are always a matter of priority, but, in view of what we have heard today, it might be helpful if the Government were able to indicate that they have reminded —or intend to remind—chief constables of their powers under the 1959 Act.

However, legislation and law enforcement can take us only so far. In the end, both will fail if the background climate of opinion and the state of the family are unsound. In particular, we need to be sure that we do not lose sight of the special qualities, limitations and vulnerability of children. In an age when so many of our traditional beliefs are being discarded or compromised, and when distinctions between right and wrong and even between men and women are being blurred, it is only too easy for us to think of children as young persons, not as children. How else could certain pressure groups who campaign for more permissive legislation on sex apply the word "consenting" to children under 14? It is a gross contradiction in terms. How else could the area clinic at Doncaster not only offer free contraceptives to children under 16—in itself an action of doubtful legality and common sense—but actually emphasise the fact that this can be done without the knowledge of parents?

Those two examples indicate an attitude to children which, apart from anything else, can only undermine parental responsibility, and that, in turn, can only damage the family. To damage the family inevitably puts additional strain on the public authorities and the forces of law and order and, incidentally, brings about the need for more police searches. It is a strain that these authorities may well not be able to bear. The merit of the Bill is that it recognises that children are children, and, as such, are entitled to more protection. I hope that this point will not be lost on those who are in a position to influence public attitudes and those who are able to encourage and assist parents to exercise their rightful responsibilities.

1.8 p.m.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I agree with much that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and in particular with his strong argument for a far reaching revision of the obscenity laws. I shall not take up the time of the House with that general issue today. In the 19th century, it was said of a well known health reformer; "England wants to be clean, but not to be cleaned by Chadwick" Today England might say that it wants to be clean, but not to be cleaned by Mr. and Mrs. Chadwick, who might appear to be my revered friend, Mary Whitehouse, and myself. At any rate, I am not trying to link this discussion with the wider arguments to follow.

We are all indebted to the noble Baroness Lady Faithfull, for introducing the Bill into this House and for the way in which she has dealt with the subject. I also congratulate the Member of Parliament to whose initiative we owe this eventuality. I in no way agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, who no doubt has more pressing engagements. I am afraid that I have been absent a good deal myself, and have therefore missed what was obviously a fine contribution from the right reverend Prelate. But I in no way agree with the suggestion that this does not make very much difference.

Of course, if the noble Lord has his way and manages to change certain words, it may make less difference than it does now. That was really the thought behind my intervention. I do not agree with him at all. This is a far-reaching measure of much more significance perhaps even than the subject that we are tackling today. It is a flat-out attack on the producers of evil matter. Of course, indirectly, if the producers are stopped from producing pornography the consumers will be stopped from receiving any, but it is directly an attack on the producers and, in that respect, it is totally different from anything in the Obscene Publications Act or similar legislation.

I join the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, in saying that we must not be too hard on any of our fellow humans, even the consumers of child pornography. I have a friend—a very good-looking military gentleman—who for the purposes of an investigation was trying to obtain some child pornography. One of the pedlars of it informed him that it would be rather difficult for him to convince people that he actually required it for his own use. If it were straight porn, soft or hard, they were ready to believe that he might need it, but he was told that those who demanded soft porn did not look like him. Apparently they are gentlemen in pebble glasses, with sallow complexions, rather wispy beards and large pot bellies. So my friend was informed.

In this House many of us are bespectacled, some are a bit sallow perhaps, and some may be a little overweight. I do not think we have any "beardies" with us at the moment, but there are distinguished Members of this House who sport beards. I am not going to say that no Member of the House could ever be identified as a potential consumer of child pornography, but I am not aware of knowing any, though perhaps they are keeping it from me. At any rate, they are ill and, as the noble Baroness said, we must extend compassion to them and try to help them, but not to the point of allowing them to exploit helpless children to gratify their own desires.

This is a measure to deal with the producers and some of us who have been involved in this struggle for some time have not been unaware of the need to tackle the matter from that angle, although we have not done so effectively up to now. In the report in which I was involved—indeed, I was the chairman of the committee which produced it—and which was debated at great length here about six years ago, we made a proposal which, if it had been effective, would have stopped the exploitation of people of all ages—not just children—in the production of pornography. That proposal did not arouse very much interest and of course it went much further than the measure that we are discussing this morning. But at any rate what we are doing now points in that direction; I will not say more than that.

I am sorry that I missed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and therefore do not know what liberal views he expressed. I know he is a great liberal, as well as being a great Socialist; he is everything except a great Conservative. I do not know what views he advanced, but if one is dealing with adults and trying to protect them from being exploited, one is met with the argument that they ought to know how to conduct themselves if they are grown-up and that they must be allowed to go to hell in their own way. Therefore, that makes it harder to deal with the exploitation of adults. But here we are dealing with the exploitation of children and nobody seriously argues—I am sure that nobody has argued this morning—that children ought to be allowed to destroy themselves in their own way. When we talk of them destroying themselves, we mean being destroyed by the vested interests at work.

Therefore, I am sure that this Bill will go through, and that it will go through without any amendment in the direction indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, said that he hoped the Bill would not be substantially amended. Personally, I should like to see the age of 16 raised. If we are saying that those under 16 must be protected, I would say that those around 18—to use my earlier phrase—cannot be allowed to go to hell in their own way, under the exploitation of vested interests. I hope that some amendment will be possible there. My Lords, leaving out that point and taking just the Bill before us, I congratulate all those who have been concerned with bringing it here and I hope and believe it will go to a Second Reading and a successful final passage.

1.15 p.m.

Viscount INGLEBY

My Lords, I also welcome this Bill. I am very grateful to its sponsor in this House and its sponsor in another place. In his opening speech, from which I will quote briefly, he said: An American doctor who is fighting this trade is reported as saying they"— that is to say, the children— are destroyed by these experiences. They are emotionally and spiritually murdered". I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, in that there is a good case for saying that the onus of proof of being over 16 should rest with the publisher. I am not happy with Clause 5 which provides that all proceedings should need the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. He is not Solomon, and in his old age even Solomon went astray.

I am not entirely happy with the defence of scientific and learned study. I think that this provision would need to be looked at carefully to make sure that it is not too wide a loophole. But these are matters for the Committee stage. I welcome the Bill and hope it will have an unopposed Second Reading.

1.17 p.m.


My Lords, when I get up in this House, which I am glad to say is seldom, I usually begin by saying: "At this time of the night, you will not want to hear much from me." I should just amend one word and say that at this time of the day you will not want to hear much. We all want to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has to say. I am slightly uncertain as to whether in fact there will be a Division on this. I very much hope that—as, with one exception, every speaker so far has said—this Bill will get a Second Reading; and that we can debate without hysteria some of the Amendments that will certainly be suggested.

This is a very difficult subject because it touches pornography on the one hand and children on the other. Both have been with us for a long time—since the beginning of the world—and, speaking as a bachelor (who is not even an illegitimate father) I very much hope that children will be with us for very much longer. However, I should like to emphasise a point made by Lord Wigoder in what I thought was a very balanced speech. I do not know how far I would agree with his Amendments, but I do agree with him that the purpose of the Bill is admirable. Some of your Lordships—and I would mention Lord Houghton—think that it goes too far; others like the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, think it does not go far enough. I will not say which camp I am in, if I have to be in a camp, but I think it is generally known that I certainly do not think that it goes too far.

The purpose of the Bill is to protect children, and I think that is the point we want to remember. As I said, children have always been here and have always needed protection. Without taking up too much of your Lordships' time, I would take you back to ancient Carthage, where children needed protection from being put into a furnace for the honour of Moloch, the god of power, or even as far back as the Shaftesbury Acts of the last century, when it took a very long time, with some opposition in your Lordships' House, to prevent children from working in factories—often with the consent of their parents—for I forget how many hours a day in circumstances that we need not go into now. That was sacrificing children to Mammon.

I think most of us would agree that both of those were wrong, but now—and I do not think there is any need to produce evidence here, though it can be produced —children are being sacrificed to the god of pornography and/or sex. I do not know who that is. Perhaps it is Eros. I doubt if it is Aphrodite. But there I do not doubt that the menace facing us at the moment is the flood of "liberalism", which is one word used, though speaking as a Liberal I dislike that use of the word. "Permissiveness" is another one. In a society which restricts almost everything, including travelling abroad, taking drugs and other things, more perhaps than in any society before, I do not feel that "permissive" is a very good word, either.

However, I feel that the noble Baroness in introducing this Bill has done an immense service. If the point of it is, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, said, to stop a very small leak, I can only say that the smaller the leak is, the more reason there is to stop it, partly because it is possible to do so. To stop a very large leak is not always easy, as I know from unhappy boating experiences. The time to stop a leak if there is a leak is when it is small—and particularly when one knows that, in the words of a prayer we sometimes say in this House, "the floods have risen" all around and will be rising more so.

The various obscene publications Acts which are said to defend us from pornography do not and will not do so, of course, but I believe that to get one Bill through on these lines is something that this House can do. Owing to what the noble Baroness called "unhappy circumstances", in another place this Bill was not debated or even, as Lord Houghton pointed out, discussed in Committee. This is the place to do it, and I very much hope that your Lordships will accept it, with or without a Division. I know which way I would vote.

I should particularly like to thank the right reverend Prelate for the last part of his speech, which was I think echoed by Lord Robertson of Oakridge, in which he said that what we are trying to do is to keep children children. They are now at risk of being robbed not, in this case, of their lives or their money, but of their childhood. Of course children are going to lose their childhood anyhow, and quite rightly. They would have to give it up to adolescence or old age. Some, like myself, may be accused of remaining children after they have got into their second childhood. But children should not have their childhood raped from them in a way that is all too probably happening on a much larger scale than any of us thinks.

Mr. Graham Greene, who is not my favourite novelist, but whom nobody can accuse of being a sentimentalist, once wrote a book, partly of reminiscences and partly of essays, called The Lost Childhood. I have been racking my brains to remember who wrote the quotation from which he took that title, but at the beginning of the book were lines ending up: In the lost childhood of Judas, Christ was betrayed". I think there is a very real risk of children being betrayed, and I hope that your Lordships will do something to prevent that betrayal.

1.24 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)

My Lords, perhaps I may say two things at the outset. First, I warmly welcome the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford. I am sure we all enjoyed his speech, and we look forward to hearing him speak to us in future. Secondly, I welcome the temperate manner in which the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, moved the Second Reading of this Bill.

The Bill before us today meets public concern about one particular way in which children may be abused, and in which they need additional protection from the criminal law. The desire to defend our children from undesirable exploitation is universal, and it is entirely right that there should have been public anxiety at the possibility of young children being used for the purposes of pornography.

We in the Government have made clear, since allegations of the abuse of children were first made, our determination that there should be no defect in the legal measures against those guilty of these practices. Certainly no civilised society could tolerate the corruption of its children by their being subjected to degradation for the sexual pleasure of adults, or for the purposes of profiting from the perverted desires of others. We are in no doubt that the police and the courts must have every reasonable power that is necessary to bring to justice those who abuse children in this way. It is as a result of this that we have supported the principle behind this Bill. Indeed, it comes before your Lordships' House at this time—and my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby touched on this point—because the Government made arrangements which prevented its being held up in another place by procedural difficulties. We hope that the principle will commend itself to your Lordships and that the Bill will indeed receive a Second Reading today.

Before I say anything else about the Bill, however, I should like to dwell for a moment on the background to it, and the problem with which it seeks to deal. I think it is important that we should try to look at this matter objectively, as to what is in fact the real problem that we are discussing. I say this not to suggest that there is any question of balancing the interests of pornography against those of children—I do not think there are two sides to the issue in that sense—but because some of the publicity which has attended this subject has, I think, to some extent done a significant public disservice. It has given rise to a considerable amount of public anxiety that the use of children in pornography is a widespread and growing practice, and that there is nothing whatever that the police or the law can do about it. That is a gross overstatement, as I shall endeavour to point out.

I should like to put before the House the situation as I see it. First, as to the existence in this country of a problem of children becoming involved in the production of pornographic material of the kind that has given rise to public concern. I would say at the outset that the Government have no evidence that this is of any significance. Cases have certainly come to light where individuals have sought to use children in this way, most commonly where the taking of photographs has been subsidiary to the commission of more serious sexual offences against children. There is certainly evidence of that. But no evidence has been produced that such practices are widespread, or that they are growing. The Home Office has made a number of inquiries of the Director of Public Prosecutions, of the Metropolitan Police and of a number of chief constables, as well as of some others, and has continued to do so since the Second Reading of this Bill in another place. What I have just told the House represents the consensus view that we have been given. I must make this also clear: no evidence to the contrary has been forthcoming. I do not think that those who have been urging the need for legislation would necessarily dispute that view, since I have noticed (indeed, this has been made clear in some of the speeches that have been made today) that it has been argued that we should act before the problem gets out of hand in Britain—the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, made this particular point in his speech—as it is argued that it has in some other countries.

I do not in any way deny the legitimacy of that particular argument that legislation should be aimed at a potential problem, rather than an actual problem now. What I want to do is to assure the public that the problem is more potential than actual. The second important consideration is, of course, the effectiveness of the existing law. Again, some of the publicity given to this subject has suggested that a major new problem has suddenly arisen for which no legal controls exist and on which fresh legislation is urgently necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, dealt extremely effectively with this particular argument in his speech which, if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, was in no way complacent. It seemed to me that the noble Lord was simply stating what the existing law was and, indeed, the noble Lord Lord Redesdale, made no effort to challenge the accuracy of the statement made by the noble Lord.

The existing law can in fact attack the mischief which we are discussing in two particular ways. The first is through the law on sexual offences against children, which may be those of the most serious kind or the lesser ones, such as indecent assault or indecency with children. The second means is through offences relating to pornography under the Obscene Publications Acts or certain other legislation. As with the question of whether a problem exists, the Home Office has consulted widely about experience in enforcing the law so that we may judge where the existing law is weakest and where it needs strengthening.

The clear message we have received is that for practical purposes the present law is capable of dealing with such cases as arise of children being used for pornographic purposes. We are assured by the Director of Public Prosecutions, for example, that it is very rare for an instance of this nature to come to light where charges in respect of one offence or another are not possible. This does not mean that the law covers all possible eventualities, but that in practice it has been sufficient to meet the circumstances of those cases which are brought to light.

The usefulness of the Bill is very much on the margins of this problem. It will make the law stronger to deal with the person who might decide that it is possible under the law as it stands, by proceeding with some care, with some considerable and deliberate care, to avoid committing an offence and to profit from so doing. The simple act of taking an indecent photograph of a child, unaccompanied by any aggravation, may be an offence under the Indecency with Children Act 1960. But the legal position is not settled, and, in any case, the Indecency with Children Act protects only those up to the age of 14, and many people certainly regard that as inadequate in the context of the commercial exploitation of children in pornography. The Bill will remove any possible doubts in this area and makes it plain that to take an indecent photograph of a person under 16 will constitute a criminal offence.

The main constraints on pornography are, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, said in his speech, provided by the Obscene Publications Acts of 1959 and 1964. In my view, there is, if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, no need for the Home Office to send a circular to chief officers of police to tell them of the existence of these two pieces of legislation; indeed, with great respect to the noble Lord, whose motives I have no doubt were of the highest, I think it would be regarded as a piece of gross impertinence by the Home Office to draw the attention of chief officers of police to two pieces of the criminal law when, of course, they are well aware of the contents. It would, I think, he almost as ill-advised to send them a circular on the contents of the Theft Act. Chief officers are well aware of the existence of this legislation, and I think require no reminder from the Home Office about its existence.

These Acts are supplemented by the prohibition on the importation of indecent or obscene material and on its transmission through the post. We have heard in the past months a good deal about extreme pornography depicting children in sexual activity, either with each other or with adults. Material of this kind, which does exist, does come almost exclusively from abroad. The Customs authorities and the police would have absolutely no hesitation in seizing it whenever it is discovered, as being in contravention of the import prohibition and of the domestic controls on obscene publications. Quantities of this material are in fact seized, along with other hard-core pornography coming from overseas, particularly from Scandinavia.

However, I must add this. Both the Customs and Excise and the Metropolitan Police have advised us that it is not their impression that the amount of such material in circulation has increased recently. That is their view. It is certainly not freely available in this country, though clearly Customs and Excise—this point was made by one of the speakers in the debate today—cannot stop completely pornography being smuggled into Britain, nor can the police prevent an undercover trade being carried on. In short, so far as the worst excesses of pornography involving children are concerned, the present law is adequate and the Bill will provide no additional means of attacking this kind of trade; but the Bill is likely to have rather more effect in relation to the less offensive forms of pornography involving children.

The trade in pornography is at present illegal if the material is obscene, but if a court judges that it is not obscene, its distribution and sale cannot be checked. Pornography involving children covers, obviously, a wide spectrum, with the extreme examples of which I was speaking just now at one end and fading at the other end into photographs which are almost totally inoffensive and indistinguishable from many which are no doubt to be found in family photograph albums. Somewhere along this spectrum photographs will cease to be obscene, although the uncertainty of the definition makes it difficult to predict precisely what a court will find to be obscene or not obscene. This may well mean that some material whose production has given rise to offences could still be sold quite lawfully; and indeed some anxious parents of boys who have become involved in pornography, where criminal proceedings have been brought against those responsible, have understandably expressed concern that photographs of their sons which are not themselves of an obscene nature could still be on sale.

By adopting the test of indecency, the Bill will shift the point at which the legal sanctions cease and will bring a larger range of material within the control of the law. In this area, I think there is always scope for debate about the proper limits of the law and what should be the criteria by which those limits should be judged. It is for this reason that the Government consider that substantial changes in the law should await the conclusions of the Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has appointed under the chairmanship of Professor Bernard Williams to review these very questions in, obviously, a much wider context. But the Government support the desire that the law protecting children against pornographers should be made as effective as possible without waiting for the report of the Williams Committee, and we are prepared to accept that the intention of the Bill, of adopting a more restricted test—that is, I repeat, of indecency—where children are concerned than in relation to pornography generally, where the test is one of obscenity, is a reasonable solution to this problem for the time being.

So far I have made it clear that although fresh legislation is not needed to deal with the central core of the problem, in so far as it exists, the Government regard the Bill as a useful one in ensuring the effectiveness of measures against the use of children in pornography, and that we accept the central feature of the Bill, which is to penalise the taking of, or the trade in, indecent photographs of children. We also accept it as reasonable that a child should be defined for these purposes as a person under the age of 16, following what is, in fact, the age of consent. Sixteen seems to us the right figure rather than either one lower or 18.

I must make it clear that there are a number of details in the Bill which seem to us to be unsatisfactory and which we should wish to ask the House to amend during its Committee consideration. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, who introduced the Bill, is aware, I know, of the points that we have in mind. Indeed, the Government tabled a number of detailed Amendments for consideration by another place but withdrew them in the interests of ensuring the passage of the Bill, on the clear understanding that the same Amendments would be put before your Lordships' House.

The Amendments we would wish to make do not in any way affect the principle or the central objective of the Bill. Their effect will not be significantly different from that intended by the Bill when it was introduced, but we think that the Bill is capable of being improved to make it a great deal more workmanlike and effective. A number of other detailed points have been raised in the course of today's debate which I think can more appropriately be dealt with when we come to the Committee stage. As I have indicated, quite a substantial number of Government Amendments will have to be tabled before the Committee stage of the Bill in order to achieve the objectives which I have set before the House. All I would wish to do now is to repeat the Government's support for the principle of the Bill and to express the hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.

1.41 p.m.


My Lords, we are indeed grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, the Minister, for giving his support and the support of his Government to this Bill, although stating that there are several Amendments which—he is quite right—I have seen and I do know about. We have had a very interesting debate, and I should like to thank all Members of the House who have taken part.

I cannot forbear to mention just two points at the expense of keeping your Lordships from your lunch. Inevitably, I think I must turn to the one full-blooded, so to speak, opposer of the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. He livened up—if I may put it that way—the debate, and anyone who enlivens a debate we are grateful for. I cannot agree, obviously, with his arguments; the argument that it is an infringement of the private, individual lives of people I think is a false argument and legally not acceptable. The Bill particularly protects people who have taken photographs in the areas of their family. It is against indecent photographs that this Bill is directed, and it is directed, as has been said before, against people who make money and who use children for their sexual purposes. Therefore, this would not apply to the families to which the noble Lord referred.

To Lord Wigoder I would say—I offer this to the House with some diffidence— that I am prepared to take any noble Lord who considers that there is very little pornographic literature in connection with children to a certain place to see the literature. You will notice that, very carefully, I have not got it in my possession, but if any noble Lord does feel and think that this is a very small problem—well it may be as compared with many other things, but small problems grow. Here I should like to turn to my noble friend who says that those of us who sail do not think because we have stopped a small leak….This, I think, is what we think. We are very grateful to the Government that they support this Bill, and I should like to thank in particular the right reverend prelate for his speech today.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the whole House.