House of Commons
Violent pornography in the Commons
David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion)(Lab/Co-op): I cannot say that I am pleased to be leading this debate, because I wish that it did not have to take place. However, I am pleased that so many hon. Members are
here and wish to discuss the subject.
The title of the debate is a euphemism: we are talking about violent pornography on the internet. I welcome the action taken by both the present Government and previous Governments to deal with child pornography on the internet. A task group is
working on the issue, and there is international co-operation in dealing with the provision of internet pornography involving children, and with those who access such images.
Events in Sussex last year tragically and horrifically threw the spotlight on another form of extreme material on the internet, which until then had not received the same attention—violent pornography in which men and women are depicted as the
victims of rape, torture and asphyxiation.
Jane Longhurst was a constituent of mine. She was a talented teacher, and was much loved by her colleagues and the children whom she taught, in a secondary school for children with moderate learning difficulties. My last job as a teacher was at that
school. That was before Jane started teaching there, but I have kept in touch with the school and my wife is a governor there, so I knew of Jane's colleagues' high regard for her, and of her students' devotion. It is a difficult environment in which
Jane's disappearance in the early spring of last year touched the community in an unusual way—and not only those who knew her. Those who read her colleagues' testimonies shared something of the anguish felt by her mother Liz, who is here today,
and other members of the family. That sympathy and anguish became mixed with horror during the trial of Graham Coutts, the man eventually convicted of her murder, and as we heard of the circumstances in which he had murdered her. We heard of Coutts'
obsession with pornography showing strangulation, rape, murder and necrophilia.
There was also shock at the revelation that access to sites such as necrobabes and deathbyasphyxia is so easy. In one sense we should not have been shocked, because the internet is the great democratic tool of communication, providing us all with
easy access to the knowledge of the world—whatever knowledge that might be. However, it also provides access to the sort of material that fed Graham Coutts' fantasies—and it doubtless led to Jane's death.
As Jane's MP, I joined my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter), in whose constituency live several members of Jane's family, including her mother. He, the family and I considered how we could try to get some action taken on access to
such images, action that might eventually provide a memorial to the wasted life—it was wasted, because it was ended far too early—of Jane Longhurst. An early-day motion has been signed by many hon. Members, for which the family and I are
We also presented to Ministers a five-point plan of action. First, there should be work with internet service providers, search engine companies and web hosting companies to consider ways to block access to the sort of material on which Graham Coutts
Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware of the Internet Watch Foundation, which has reduced the amount of child pornography hosted in the UK from about 18 per cent. in 1996 to less than 1 per cent. in the past
Lepper : I thank my hon. Friend for drawing our attention to the excellent work of that foundation, which I acknowledge. There is concerted action in this country—and, now, throughout the world—to deal with child pornography.
Perhaps we need to ask the foundation to consider whether its definitions of obscenity should be broadened beyond child pornography.
The second issue that we took to Ministers was the need to reconsider the Obscene Publications Acts 1959 and 1964, and whether there should be a criminal offence of possessing the sort of images that Coutts used.
Jane Griffiths (Reading, East) (Lab): My hon. Friend will know that the Obscene Publications Act contains a defence of merit, which is sometimes called the Lady Chatterley defence. However, the Protection of Children Act does not contain such
a defence. Does he think that that is right?
Lepper : I am aware of the defence in the 1959 Act to which my hon. Friend refers. However, I suspect that we shall hear from the Minister that there is a reluctance to carry out a thorough overhaul of that Act. Perhaps there should be
discussion of the question of a defence of merit in relation to child pornography—but I cannot see how such a defence could apply to child pornography.
The third issue that we took to Ministers was the need for better international co-operation in dealing with such images on the internet. Well over 90 per cent. of the material that we are debating originates outside the United Kingdom. However,
although it is comparatively easy to take action to block access to sites based in the UK, it is less easy to deal with sites based elsewhere, unless we have the co-operation of international partners. We have co-operation with most of our
international partners in respect of child pornography.
Fourthly, we asked Ministers to consider the role of Ofcom. When the Bill that became the Communications Act 2003 was being debated, intervention by Ofcom of the type that we are discussing was specifically omitted from the legislation. However, I
think that provisions in the Act allow Ofcom to take action if it does not believe that the industry is progressing as quickly as it might on issues such as filtering mechanisms.
Our fifth point concentrated on the way in which credit card companies might be involved in putting a financial squeeze on the providers of extreme images. In the wake of the trial to which I referred, newspaper reporters had some success in
contacting credit card account processing companies and credit card companies, and got a couple of the sites that were specifically mentioned at the trial closed down. That was the five-point plan.
In early March, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West and I, along with Mrs. Longhurst and other members of the family, met the Minister and the Secretary of State to discuss the issues. We came away from that discussion heartened by the
response, particularly on the issue of international action. The Secretary of State had already had discussions with his counterparts in the United States about greater co-operation. I hope that Ministers will pursue the matter with the G8 countries
as well as with all our European partners.
One of the big problems that we face is that although, by and large, there is international agreement on the issue of child pornography, the same cannot be said about pornography involving adults. Frans van der Hulst, who is based in the Netherlands
and owns one of the sites mentioned in the Jane Longhurst trial—one of the sites used by Graham Coutts—was quoted as saying: "I've read all the criticism but I'm doing nothing illegal. I don't feel responsible for what happened to
Jane Longhurst. The only person responsible is Graham Coutts."
In a very narrow sense, I suppose that that is right: Graham Coutts committed the crime. However, I feel that many of us here would feel that there is a wider responsibility that Mr. van der Hulst shares with Graham Coutts.
When answering a parliamentary question in the House of Lords in February, Baroness Scotland put the matter quite clearly: "there is no international consensus on what constitutes obscenity, or when the freedom of an adult to have access to
obscene or pornographic material should be constrained."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 February 2004; Vol. 658, c. WA31.]
That is one of the stumbling blocks when it comes to the international co-operation that is so much needed. I believe that that co-operation is probably at the heart of the issue of access.
Brian White : Is my hon. Friend aware that although restrictions in one country can damage the industry in that country, that does not solve the problem but simply moves it elsewhere?
Lepper : In saying that, my hon. Friend is supporting my view about the need for international co-operation. That issue is at the heart of the matter, although in the shorter term it can perhaps be taken together with looking carefully at what
can be done through credit card companies and processors—the companies that process the accounts through which people pay for access to such sites. Most—not all—of those companies do not wish to be associated with this kind of
material. It sometimes comes as a surprise to them to discover that they are helping people to pay for it.
Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): The hon. Gentleman has touched on an important point. He may be aware that the credit card companies held a meeting in the House of Commons a couple of years back, where they were keen to put on record
their absolute commitment not to profit from inappropriate material. I hope that we collectively press them very hard, because we will then be able to get quick action in that area.
Lepper : Although international co-operation is the long-term objective, in the short term we should deal with the finances. It is not charitable organisations that are providing these images—it is big business. We must not only act in
any way that we can against the suppliers but consider action against the consumers, although I understand that is much more difficult to define in law.
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that there is a problem with credit cards? How many customers who have been convicted of using their credit cards to buy illegal images on the internet have
actually had their cards removed? Is there any truth in the suggestion that people who have been convicted of buying child pornography with their credit cards are being rearrested for committing the same offence with the same credit card?
Lepper : That is a problem, which is why we need to engage with the credit card companies. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) spoke of their professed willingness to become involved in lobbying on the issue, and we must press
them as hard as possible to ensure that the situation mentioned by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) is stamped out.
I pay tribute to Mrs. Longhurst and the way in which she has campaigned since the death of her daughter and the end of the trial for the kind of action that I have described. The petition that she launched a little earlier this year will, I believe,
eventually be presented to the Home Office and already has 7,000 to 8,000 signatures. Clearly, the issue is of real concern to many of our constituents. Although no one should overlook the difficulties involved in dealing with it, our constituents
are telling us that they want us to get on with the job of overcoming as many of those difficulties as we can in both the short and the long term.
I do not often pay tribute to newspapers, but I pay tribute to the Sussex regional paper, The Argus—and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West will want to mention his local paper, too. Both have supported Mrs. Longhurst's
petition and encouraged people to sign it.
These are difficult issues with which to grapple, and the technology is moving fast. In the past two or three weeks, the main mobile phone companies in this country met to consider how to deliver "mobile adult content" in a responsible way.
The fact that they use the word "responsible" is gratifying, and most of them are considering ways of selling their technology with pre-installed filters either now or in the future. That, too, is a hopeful sign. However, the technology is
moving fast, and, in addition to the five points that I mentioned earlier, we might consider involving the manufacturers in exploring more fully the ways in which filtering systems can be installed before equipment is sold to the customer. Indeed,
the retailer Comet is already taking action on items sold through its stores.
Many other hon. Members want to take part in the debate, and I hope that it will put down a real marker in the record of the House of Commons: concern about the issue is shared by all parties and crosses party political boundaries. We shall be
looking for regular updates from Ministers on progress on the issues that we are discussing. My constituent Jane Longhurst died at the age of 31. We cannot fully share what must have been her family's horrific experience as they heard and read the
details of that trial a year ago. As Members of Parliament, we have a responsibility to take action that will be a lasting memorial to Jane Longhurst.
Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper) has secured this debate. A number of us submitted identical titles, and it is good that we have worked on a cross-party
basis. I am particularly grateful for the support from the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird)
and the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley), who, although she is not here today, takes a particular interest in the issue.
On March 14 last year, Jane Longhurst was brutally murdered by a sexual fantasist. At his trial, Graham Coutts admitted to being an avid user of depraved and corrupting internet sites, such as necrobabes, deathbyasphyxia, and hangingbitches. In
February this year, Graham Coutts was found guilty of the horrific murder of Jane Longhurst. He violated her dead body and, in between times, logged on to those very same internet sites, to feed his sick fantasies, which, all too tragically, he now
had the opportunity to act out for real.
Incredibly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion said, such internet images are not illegal in themselves. It is only an offence to publish them for commercial gain. Whereas pornographic images of children are illegal to send and
possess, images of women being raped and tortured for sexual gratification can be accessed from internet sites hosted from abroad without fear of prosecution.
The Jane Longhurst campaign against violent internet pornography was born to right that wrong. Jane's mother, Liz Longhurst, made an emotional appeal for political and public support for the family's call for action to block access to such sites.
Those sites had, in the words of Liz Longhurst, a direct bearing on her daughter's death. I have worked with Liz, who is here today, and with members of her family who come from the Reading area, to take the campaign forward.
There has been remarkable progress in a comparatively short period, as politicians and the public have responded positively to the Longhurst family's call. For example, early-day motion 583 has attracted more than 170 signatures from all parts of the
House. I understand that the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham has a similar early-day motion, which has attracted between 70 and 90 signatures. There is widespread support for action to limit access to such images, so the question for this
and subsequent debates is: what sort of action?
I was not going to mention the Reading Evening Post, but I now have to. The newspaper has been more than helpful: it has publicised the campaign and assisted us on the streets of Readings, with A-boards and other publicity, in generating support for
the national petition. We launched the national petition on 8 March, on international women's day. To my knowledge, it has already attracted more than 9,000 signatures, mainly from the Brighton and Reading areas. It is worth pointing out that we are
looking for a national charity to pick up the campaign and put some professional resources behind it. Although as Back Benchers, we have done a pretty competent job, we have limited resources. If we had the resources of a national charity, we could,
I am sure, roll out the campaign the length and breadth of the country and attract more than a million signatures in the blink of an eye.
The Internet Watch Foundation, as has already been said, has done incredibly helpful work. I would ask whether the current self-regulatory regime needs tightening, but there is no doubt that the foundation's excellent "notice and take down"
procedure has been a model and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion said, has reduced the availability of child pornography. However, we are talking about a different beast today—a different animal altogether. As has been said,
we had a productive meeting with the Home Secretary on 4 March, and we submitted our five-point plan, which admittedly was rather hurriedly drawn together.
None of us is an expert in the internet industry, and I struggle to surf the web at the best of times, but I have been guided by more knowledgeable colleagues. I am particularly grateful for the support that we have received from John Carr of the
National Children's Home, who has provided excellent briefings. One of the problems of circulating briefs among hon. Members is that others have already said much of what I was going to say, but as long as the points are read into the record, the
purpose of the debate is served.
I spent an interesting, if slightly sickening, morning with the clubs and vice squad at Charing Cross police station. While there is intense police activity in hunting down those who promote, distribute and possess images of child pornography, it is
a sad fact of life that only three police officers in the entire Metropolitan police area are devoted to tackling non-child pornography—and there is no evidence that other police forces have the necessary specialist skills required. I hope that
the Minister can offer some clarification.
Brian White : Is my hon. Friend aware that there are only 240 computer forensic officers, most of whose tasks are based on Operation Ore and child pornography or terrorism. There are not the resources in computer forensics to deal with this
issue, and we need a major increase in the number of people available.
Salter : My hon. Friend is one of those Members whose knowledge of the internet has been useful to me and other colleagues in this campaign, and he makes a superb point. As patterns of crime change, and as the internet becomes a more useful
tool for those who seek to harm members of our society, police resources need to expand to meet that challenge.
The petition has attracted a lot of high-profile support. We are particularly pleased to have the public support of the Solicitor-General. It is rare for members of the Government to sign petitions to the Government, but this is a helpful
liberalisation of freedom of speech in the ranks of the Government, and it is only to be encouraged. [Interruption.] Of course I invite the Minister, too, to sign the petition.
The debate is just another step on a long road. We have to grapple with some extremely complex issues. How do we bring in a regulatory framework for sites that are hosted abroad, often anonymously, which can move from the United States to South
America, and then possibly across to Europe, taking advantage of disparities within the regulatory framework across the globe?
Before we move on to that matter—I am sure that others will touch on the technical details—I shall quote an emotional appeal that Jane's mother, Liz, made on 29 April at a school in Reading: "As many of you may know, my lovely
daughter Jane Longhurst was strangled on 14th March 2003 by Graham Coutts. He had had a fantasy from the age of 15 of strangling a woman. When he discovered the internet he became aware that he was not alone in harbouring these sick thoughts so it
then seemed all right to him and he indulged himself by viewing horrific material very frequently. This built up to a crescendo and the day before she died he was on the computer for an hour and a half. The police also found a CD he had made from
images downloaded from some of these sites. So in fact he could have been viewing these disgusting images for even longer periods of time than was revealed from a police study of the hard drive of his computer. He was well and truly addicted to these
horrible images. At present it is perfectly legal to view such images (although illegal to copy them and transmit them to others). I feel strongly that the law has to be changed."
We are in this place as lawmakers. We scrutinise the actions of the Executive. We scrutinise the laws and the regulations that we pass to see if they are up to the job and sufficient for the challenges of a 21st century Britain. It will be a
monumental task, but I suggest a review of our obscene publications legislation—perhaps not in its entirety, but in its application to the internet. Such a task is long overdue. No one wants to upset this country's cultural community, as I
understand thespians are known. On the other hand, are laws framed in 1959 and 1964 appropriate for the global communications revolution that the internet industry has seen?
I was disappointed that the regulation of internet content was specifically excluded from the Communications Act 2003. However, Ofcom has reserve powers to intervene if the internet industry does not, in Parliament's view, respond positively to the
challenges that we face. There is merit in encouraging the suppliers of personal computers to build in filters from day one. In some of the briefing material sent to us, an analogy with seat belts was made. When one buys a car, the salesman or
saleswoman does not say, "Oh, by the way, the seat belts are in the boot. Fit them at your own convenience." The mechanisms that I describe could be built into the provision of PCs in the first place.
Work could be done with internet service providers to provide blocking software. Some search engine companies, one of which is Yahoo!, have chosen to exclude all pornographic items from their operations, and I understand that a Home Office task
force, which my hon. Friend the Minister chairs, recently established a sub-group of search engine companies to consider what can be done in that way.
One of the most important tasks is to examine in some detail the role and function of the credit card companies and the banks, which I look to the Home Office to do. Access to credit card billing lubricates much of this sick industry. If it were not
for the banks' smugness and complacency, it would be possible to hunt down the people who are putting these images on to our airwaves and profiting from the torture, rape and murder of women on camera for private profit and sexual gratification.
Other hon. Members want to contribute to the debate, so I shall end my short contribution now, by thanking hon. Friends and other hon. Members for the support that they have given my colleagues and me in our campaign. I also pay heartfelt tribute to
Liz Longhurst and her family for the courage that they have shown. They asked for public and political support on the steps of Lewes Crown court when Graham Coutts was locked up for 30 years: we parliamentarians should respond, and are responding, to
the Longhurst family's call. I look to the Government to build on the excellent start that they have made in their meetings with us by acting to protect people in this country from images that, in my view and in the view of Liz and her family, led to
the horrific death of a lovely girl, Jane Longhurst.
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I congratulate the Chairman of the Broadcasting Committee, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion—my near neighbour—on securing the debate. Many of us applied for the same debate,
and I concur with all his comments and with those made by the hon. Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter). I have an interest in the subject for three reasons. First, I am a near neighbour of Brighton, Pavilion, and the case of Jane Longhurst touched
the hearts of many of my constituents, particularly teachers, in East Worthing and Shoreham. For that reason, I signed an early-day motion on that subject soon after those tragic events. Secondly, as shadow Minister for Children, I am very concerned
about child abuse. Last week, I spent an afternoon with the Scotland Yard paedophile unit, which was an eye-opening and harrowing experience. The week before that, I spent the afternoon with extremely dangerous child sex offenders at
Broadmoor—another harrowing experience that gave me an insight into the problem that we are up against. Thirdly, I, like many others, was the victim of a Trojan horse e-mail, which contained links to pornographic sites.
This is a modern problem; the internet should be a tool and an asset for people to use and enjoy, yet it is falling foul of those who would abuse it for financial gain and other gratification, and for criminal purposes. The problem is getting worse
because of the nature of technology: the greater penetration of computers and the internet; the great success in rolling out broadband to many more people, which makes the downloading of images easier; mobile videophone technology, which is coming on
stream; and the computer literacy of many younger children.
There is no easy solution. It would be great if we could come up with an international solution involving Governments and big businesses; the trouble is that many of the images come from eastern Europe, and from the US, where people will plead the
first amendment against any attempts to censor the sort of content that is made freely available. The Government deserve credit for encouraging broadband, but unfortunately it has brought many problems and more needs to be done to tackle the downside
of the greater access that it provides.
Realistically, what we can try to do now is hack off the tentacles of the beast that has been created, because it will take a lot more international effort over a longer term to get to the beast itself. We must make it as difficult as possible for
people to abuse the internet. I do not mean regular pornography—individuals have different views about the acceptability of that—but the extreme images that hon. Members have already described in relation to the tragic death of Jane
Longhurst. The sites in question are easy to access in seconds, easy to link to from the increasing number of spam e-mails, and easy for children to access.
There was a furore recently about the beheading of Nick Berg in Iraq; video footage of those hideous events is freely available to anyone with basic computer knowledge who taps into the internet. Anybody who goes to a site called ogrish.com, as I did
yesterday—I did not go beyond its home page—can have full access to that horrible footage. The site gives the following excuse: "Just like all the other uncensored videos and images previously posted, we feel that it is important to
show what the human race is capable of in all its uncensored form. We don't MAKE you watch the footage, we just give you the choice. This is the world we're living in right now, sad but true . . . .Can you handle life?"
On that site, and others, as well as being able to access the footage of that horrific beheading, one can access footage of real suicides, an autopsy on a middle-aged woman, a bricklayer murdered by a co-worker after a drunken argument about a soccer
match, a cross-dresser who died of asphyxiation after sniffing model aeroplane glue, burnt Iraqi persons, various cancer-related images, and an Iraqi killed by a sword to the back of his neck. Unimaginably horrible scenes are freely available to
anybody who has had basic instruction on a computer.
To some sad individuals, that is purely entertainment, for whatever form of gratification; to impressionable children, it could prove traumatic and result in long-standing disturbed behaviour. At its worst, especially for people with a propensity to
mental illness, it could serve to change their behaviour and promote copycat actions, or as an instruction manual for people committed to performing illegal acts of violence.
Salter : The hon. Gentleman talks about the effect on children. Does he accept that many of the extreme and corrupting internet sites are available simply by producing a credit card? It is entirely possible for children to get hold of their
parents' credit cards, get into these sites and be exposed to images that no child should ever have to see.
Tim Loughton : The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I will not dwell on the subject of credit cards; a lot more can be done to cut off one of the tentacles of the monster. Far greater co-operation is needed from the financial institutions
that make it possible for these things to happen and for people to profit from them, which is the key point. At the very least, such images demean human behaviour and attitudes to the targets of such sites, particularly women and children.
The second subject is the use of the internet by paedophiles. As I said, I spent last week with Detective Chief Superintendent Peter Spindler of Scotland Yard's SCD5 child protection group—specifically, with its paedophile unit. That unit
investigates more than 15,000 crimes committed annually on the most precious and vulnerable victims in our society. At this point, I should congratulate the BBC for its recent series on the police protecting children, which exposed some of the
horrific things that happen.
As I have said, the visit was eye opening. It is soul-destroying work for the police officers who have to trawl through the images. Technology does not help much, because if the officers take from a suspected paedophile a hard drive that contains 2
million images, which is not unusual, they have to trawl through every image, not just take a sample, to bring a prosecution. It is incredible how sophisticated paedophiles have become. Using a system that many people would use just to download music
tracks on to an MP3 player, they can download ghastly paedophilic images. They have sophisticated swapping rooms and use key words to swap images that are then easily downloaded through the internet.
I know that other hon. Members want to speak, so I shall be brief. My third point relates to my personal experience of a Trojan horse. While I was using my parliamentary e-mail remote system from home one Sunday night, my system crashed when I tried
to access an e-mail that turned out to be spam. Two days later, we found out that our telephone line had been cut off. Unknown to me, the Trojan horse e-mail, with a link to some east European pornographic site, had got into my system and changed the
dial-up number for the server to a premium-rate telephone line. A telephone bill for about £1,200 later, and after numerous calls to, and unhelpful responses from, my telecom provider, Telecom Plus, I was pursued for the bill with legal action. I
received no help at all. Apparently, that has not happened to me alone—it commonly happens to people throughout the country, and it is another way of criminally making money out of links. I have had great help from the regulator,
ICSTIS—the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services—which is doing some great work. It upheld my complaint, and the internet company was fined. Of course, the trouble is that the company
will do a flit and will be hard to pin down. Four years ago, ICSTIS received between 3,000 and 4,000 complaints a year. Last year it received 27,000 complaints, while its helpline received 250,000 calls, 77 per cent. of which were inquiries about
high internet bills. Of the £1 million that it has levied in fines, it has been able to collect only £300,000. Action is being taken, but as many hon. Members have said, the technology of abuse is ahead of the law.
What can we do? I pay tribute to John Carr from the Home Office internet taskforce, Simon Moores from the e-Government monitor, and Zentelligence; all those have done a lot of work with parliamentarians. I also pay tribute to the Internet Watch
Foundation and the Government, including the Home Secretary's internet taskforce on child protection. Many good things are happening, but trying to attack the heart of the problem is unrealistic at this stage—we need to hack off the tentacles.
We cannot go down the line of full censorship, as they have tried in Saudi Arabia or China, where everything is filtered through a central server. We would not want to introduce that level of censorship, and satellite dishes would get round it
There is difficulty about the definition of what constitutes obscenity under the Obscene Publications Acts. What tends to deprave or corrupt one individual may be inoffensive to another. However, it is easier to define child pornography. If we can
show that vulnerable people are likely to see the images, a prosecution should be able to take place. Sites or texts that advocate child sex abuse or provide advice or guidance on how to rape children without any trace should be illegal and
constitute an incitement to commit illegal sexual acts with children.
We must chop off the financial tentacles and work with website hosts and carriers. We must also use measures such as the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, because such people are committing crimes. When I worked in the City, I had a legal obligation to
report any suspicions that money laundering was happening, and if I did not, I could have been prosecuted, regardless of the fact that I was not complicit in any such activity. However, in this situation, internet companies, telecoms carriers and
financial companies are making money out of carrying obscene material.
We must encourage better industry co-operation by threatening to use reserve powers under the Communications Act 2003 for Ofcom to regulate internet content, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion said. Those powers could include fitting filters
at source, using search engines to cut out trigger terms, and working with mobile phone operators to ensure that people registered as being under the age of 18 do not gain access to such material.
I pay tribute to the work of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion and to the words of Mrs. Longhurst. This is a challenge to all of us and must involve politicians, Governments across the world, players in the internet industry, big business and
finance houses. We urgently need a solution that we can all sign up to.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : May I make another plea for brevity? If speeches last only five minutes, the three hon. Members who have just risen will all be called.
Jane Griffiths (Reading, East) (Lab): I begin by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper) on securing this debate. Although it is not pleasing that it is necessary, it is immensely valuable; we are at the
early stage of debating and investigating these important issues. I also pay tribute to Liz Longhurst and other family members for their courage in seeking to raise the issue publicly. I gently correct my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr.
Salter)—the Longhurst family live in my constituency.
Over the years, when there have been horrific cases, such as the Jane Longhurst murder, we have sometimes reacted emotionally. That is natural; we feel horror, disgust and anger. However, those emotions make bad law. As my contribution to the debate,
I suggest that we must consider the issues in a cold and rational way.
Internet service providers are not obliged to host everything that someone might want to host on their site. They all have acceptable-use policies but there are gaps; no internet service provider is able to monitor absolutely everything. I also draw
the Government's attention to the electronic commerce directive, which is now in UK law and which gives exemption to internet service providers that unwittingly give access to material that could contravene either the Obscene Publications Act 1959 or
the Protection of Children Act 1999. Under that directive, internet service providers cannot be placed under a specific duty to monitor general content. That places an obstacle in the path of action being taken by this Government or an international
co-operative of Governments.
It is not possible to achieve an international or other consensus on what constitutes obscenity. Any site or image showing real or apparently real killing or death should not be permissible. However, that might rule out many cinema productions and
would put regulatory authorities in difficulty.
I thank hon. Members present for taking the debate forward. I hope that a resolution can be achieved for the protection of us all, but I fear that it may take considerable time.
Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): May I add my condolences to those already expressed to the family of Jane Longhurst and, in particular, compliment her mother on the courage that she has shown in bearing that awful blow and in turning it to
something positive and helpful for society? I compliment my hon. Friends the Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper) and for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) on their teamwork and diligence. I have hardly been able to pass through Portcullis House in
the past few months without being swooped on by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West waving another piece of paper and saying, "This is the next step, Vera. We must move it along in this way."
I welcome the opportunity to add my voice to those of my colleagues calling for reform, and I support their five-point plan. I want to make several quick points.
The argument has been won; replaying abuse or enactments of abuse in the form of electronic imaging are an aspect of abuse. There is no such thing as innocent viewing of some of the images contained on these sites. No one can surf that sort of
material without implication. Each viewing feeds the level of demand for such images to be produced, thereby encouraging the market. Each growth in the market pushes at the boundaries of degradation, encouraging future abusers to plumb new depths.
Above all, the impact of those images on people already prone to the violent and brutal pursuit of sexual gratification cannot be underestimated. The very existence of those sites appears to normalise perverse sexual drives and to give confidence to
those who might otherwise, being aware of the awfulness of their drives, suppress them.
The Government recently introduced the Sexual Offences Act 2003, and will soon introduce a domestic violence Bill. By doing so, they are determined to attack any notion that men, in particular, are entitled sexually to exploit or degrade women and
children. Those two pieces of legislation send out the signal that no one is entitled to exploit anyone violently or sexually.