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 to work.
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 grateful.
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 depended.
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 year?
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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.