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 Sport.
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 society.
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 be
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 regulators.
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 portrayed.
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 publications.
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.