House of Commons
Sexually Explicit Material (Regulation of Sale and Display)
Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab): I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish an Office for the
Regulation of the Sale and Display of Sexually Explicit Material; to
require the Office to regulate the sale and display of such material;
and for connected purposes.
My Bill seeks to allow the appropriate regulation of sexually explicit
material such as that in lads mags and the Daily Sport and the Sunday
Before I begin, I must tell the House that much of the material from
those publications that I would have liked to have quoted has, after
long consultation with your office, Mr. Speaker, been deemed to be too
obscene to be spoken in this Chamber. I ask Members present to reflect
on the fact that while they may never have seen such material and are
today unable to hear it read out loud in detail, those publications are
available for purchase by children in nearly every single newsagent in
My first example of such material is provided by the Daily Sport and the
Sunday Sport. Inside such so-called newspapers, the overwhelming
majority of the content comprises adverts for hard-core pornography, sex
chat lines, national directories of sex shops and every other form of
adult entertainment. There are quite literally thousands of adverts per
issue—often page after page. One page alone may have up to 700 one-line
ads for masseurs/escorts, accompanied by graphic images.
Another shocking example of such disgraceful content is provided by the
issue that covered Jane Longhurst's murder by a necrophile addict. In
the Daily Sport the sex life of her murderer was described as being a
series of “adventurous romps”. Jane's murder was not presented as a
tragedy, but instead was degraded to what can only be described as a
deviant narrative designed to appeal to the most depraved members of our
The problem is compounded by banners across the top of the Daily Sport
that advertise hard-core sex websites. Those, hon. Members, are simply a
portal to hard-core porn sites, which advertise the Daily Sport, while
hard-core porn mail-out catalogues in turn advertise the same paper.
In a similar manner, lad mags—or so-called men's lifestyle
magazines—provide another clear example of the total failure of current
media regulation. Publications such as FHM, Zoo, Nuts and the like are
sexually explicit and highly sexually denigrating. The question hon.
Members must ask themselves is why such publications are not on the top
shelves, given that their content is barely indistinguishable from
recognisable top-shelf pornography.
In those publications, women are shown only as cheap and contemptible
sexual commodities, fit only to be subjected to a range of exploitative
violent and degrading activities. An example of the content is a recent
issue of Zoo magazine, which features images of girl-on-girl action and
jokes about women enjoying being urinated on and having sex with
animals. Its “tit op comp” invites men to win breast enlargements for
their girlfriends, with the declared purpose of transforming them: into a happier, more generous, intelligent and interesting version of
the slightly second rate person they are today.
This is a magazine being sold or provided to young boys under the age of
16. What impressions are they gaining about the importance of a woman in
our society and what messages are we sending to young girls? It is that
we condone their use and misuse in any way that makes the editors,
producers and distributors of this so-called literature a profit. Is
this type of sexual activity and literature so normal that it can be
displayed next to The Beano and The Dandy? Hon. Members, something must
I believe that it is strongly in our interests as a society to restrict
the availability of this material. Whilst those publications are clearly
sexually explicit, exploitative and denigrating, there is currently no
meaningful regulation in place to ensure that they are sold as
age-restricted and on the top shelf. Throughout its history, the British
media has achieved a balance between decency and freedom of expression.
For centuries, our country has led the world in its ability to combine a
freedom of choice for society while at the same time protecting its most
vulnerable members. The availability and impact of publications such as
Zoo, Nuts and the Daily Sport are undermining that reputation.
Regulation has worked well for other industries. The British Board of
Film Classification has allowed the film industry to go from strength to
strength, whilst at the same time protecting the development of our
nation's youth. A 9 pm television watershed and internet controls have
given parents a choice over what their children watch or where they
surf. Considering the success of such measures, why is there no
regulatory mechanism in the print media that affords women and children
a similar protection? If it is right to have measures in place to
protect children within the film, TV and internet industries, why are
they not in place for the explicit sex magazines and so-called
newspapers that feature so freely on our nation's shelves? If that were
the case, all the publications that I am concerned about would be rated
18-plus and would have to carry explicit warnings about their content.
Currently, the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and the Indecent Displays
(Control) Act 1981 are entirely inadequate for the regulation of today's
media. Those Acts are applied by the courts only to the most extreme
forms of pornography and at present the law is simply not equipped to
deal with the sort of material found in lad mags or the Daily Sport.
Tellingly, there are no legal definitions of pornography in
existence—not even of the word “indecent”.
Although the publishers of newspapers and magazines are currently
regulated by the Press Complaints Commission, that body has no codes
regarding sexual explicitness and it has refused to consider introducing
guidelines even over the explicitness of the covers of newspapers and
magazines. In a similar manner, while the sale of newspapers and
magazines are monitored by a retail regulator, the National Federation
of Retail Newsagents, it issues purely voluntary codes to retailers and
has no powers to impose fines. Retailers are under no obligation
whatsoever to abide by its recommendations.
I have previously contacted WH Smith to discuss this issue, but the
chairman refused to speak to me, presumably because he is very happy
with the profits he is earning as a result of his role in promoting and
distributing that literature. WH Smith is the largest distributor for
such publications, and, despite hearing my arguments, it continues to
make those publications available to children.
Hon. Members, today we have an opportunity to force an industry to
uphold those principles that we value in everyday life. The Bill
proposes the establishment of a new, independent, non-partisan regulator
for the sale and display of sexually explicit material, with binding
codes and transparent, well publicised guidelines—a regulator that is
socially responsible and not motivated by profit and could take the onus
off commercially motivated retailers and publishers to act as
I want our children and the women who have been the subject of sexual
abuse and misuse to be properly protected from what is now freely
displayed to them, and normalises and glamorises degrading and often
violent activity. I believe that my measure will do something towards
that surely admirable end. I commend it to the House.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): The Bill is clearly well
intentioned in trying to protect minors from exposure to thoroughly
unpleasant publications. There cannot be an hon. Member in the House who
disagrees about the fact that minors deserve that protection and that
their parents would expect the law to achieve that aim.
I wish to oppose the Bill, however, because I believe that it is wrong
in two respects: first, in its proposal that a Government office should
be set up to regulate the sale and display of such material; secondly,
in its failure to take proper account of the co-operation of the women
I became interested in the subject some months ago when I received a
copy of the Daily Sport in my postbag. I was surprised at how many large
advertisements it contained for hard-core pornography, together with
pictures of women wearing nothing more than a lascivious expression. I
was even more surprised to find that that was eligible material for
display alongside newspapers, where such publications are readily
accessible to children.
A range of lifestyle magazines is aimed at the teenage girl market, but
there are no comparable publications, as far as I am aware, for teenage
boys. Perhaps that gap in the market could be filled by a responsible
publisher. If a lifestyle magazine could be produced that was attractive
to teenage boys and acceptable to their parents, it might help reduce
any curiosity that they might have in the grossly unsuitable
publications that the Bill covers.
The Bill includes no reference to the complicity of the women pictured
in the publications. They are not victims. Women who take part willingly
in that sort of photographic or film session, and are paid for their
services, must surely take responsibility for their involvement.
Portraying women as objects of disrespect at best and deserving of
degradation, violence and utter contempt at worst does a great
disservice to other women who may suffer at the hands of husbands or
partners who have been influenced by what they have seen in those
A clear definition of what constitutes pornography is needed to
encompass that type of publication and those that the hon. Lady
described, which I have not seen, in the Obscene Publications Act 1959,
so that they are consigned to the top shelf, away from the reach and
eyes of children. We do not need yet another Government office—we have
far too many already.
The Bill is trying to do the right thing in the wrong way and I
therefore oppose it.
Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to
bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of
public business), and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Claire Curtis-Thomas, Annette Brooke,
Dr. Evan Harris, Lynda Waltho, Andrew Selous, Helen Goodman, Barry
Sheerman, Peter Bottomley, Stephen Hammond, Siān C. James, Diane Abbott
and Rosie Cooper.