HL Deb 17 March 1988 vol 494 cc1251-3

3.5 p.m.

Baroness Strange asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to safeguard the physical and mental well-being of children in respect of pornography.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, a provision which will make it unlawful to possess indecent photographs, films or videos of children under the age of 16 has been added to the Criminal Justice Bill this week. This will help to reduce the exploitation of children for the making of child pornography. It is also likely to help to protect potential victims of child abuse. A provision to enable trading standards officers to enforce the Video Recordings Act has also been added to the Criminal Justice Bill today.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his really useful reply. Is he aware that the NSPCC is extremely anxious that the availability of child pornography should be curtailed as much as possible? Does he not agree that although we enjoy liberty, we must not allow the edges of decency to be eroded into licentiousness? Does he also not agree with the NSPCC that access to child pornography for children should be curtailed as much as possible and also the use of films? Does he not further agree—

Noble Lords

Only two questions!

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for pointing out the views of the NSPCC. I agree entirely with her that the availability of child pornography is totally obnoxious. That is why we are endeavouring, with our amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill, to make it an offence to possess, as opposed to just to trade in, pornography. I agree with my noble friend that the availability of pornography to children encourages those children unwittingly to become involved in pornography.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that he has the full support of Members on the Opposition Benches in regard to the clause that he mentioned? Indeed it was with pleasure that we agreed to this clause being added in the Commons, even though it did not appear in the Bill here in the Lords despite an undertaking to the contrary.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for that most helpful intervention. I hope that all other amendments which the Government intend to introduce, not only on this Bill but on all others, will have the sympathetic consideration of the Labour Benches.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that he is the greatest optimist in this House?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is a happy position in which to be and in which I shall continue to be.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, in view of the fact that much of the child pornography on sale in this country comes from the Netherlands, can the Government put any pressure on the Dutch Government to try to curb the trade?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I do not think this is a question of a government putting pressure on another government. It is a matter of the law being such that infringement of it can be enforced.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether there has been any research or any survey carried out into the exact effect of pornographic literature, films and books upon children?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, such research is always very difficult to quantify. I can tell my noble friend—this is not entirely the answer to her question—that in the last two years 42 people have been prosecuted for offences under the Protection of Children Act and 35 of them have been found guilty. In that respect, the amount concerned is not very large. I cannot tell my noble friend of the total effect throughout the country.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that one of the most obnoxious aspects of child pornography is the circulation of material among paedophiles and that it is therefore of vital importance to see that this is completely suppressed?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, Lord Nugent. I entirely agree with him. That is the reason why we believe that the additions to the Criminal Justice Bill will help a great deal. It will now be an offence for anyone to possess any such material and not just to trade in it.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether the Government are satisfied with the workings of the Indecent Displays Act?

Earl Ferrers

That, my Lords, is a totally different question. I should be perfectly happy to answer a separate Question if my noble friend would be good enough to take that course.