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30th April   

Update: Online Rating Games...

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ELSPA boss reckons BBFC will be overwhelmed by online games
Link Here  full story: Harmful Content...Parliament Inquiry: Internet And In Video Games:

Culture Media Sport committee Plans to widen the use of cinema-style rating for computer games are at risk of failing, amid predictions that soon there will be too many for the censors to regulate.

Games industry bosses told MPs on the Culture Select Committee, who are examining harmful content on the internet and in video games, that an explosion in online gaming would mean up to 100,000 games appear a year – far more than the 1,750 titles produced today.

Paul Jackson, director-general of Elspa, the games industry trade body, said it would need to fill a tower block with censors to make the system work. He was responding to questions from John Whittingdale, the Conservative chairman of the committee.

Jackson's comments mean that government plans, announced this month, to introduce compulsory rating for all games that would attract a 12 certificate and above would collapse because the BBFC could not cope: We are concerned about plans to introduce a hybrid system. On the face of it, it means classifying another 500 games a year. But will they be able to rate 100,000 games and game elements in five years' time?

Comment: Future Proofing Games Ratings

Paul Jackson's comments are better explained in an interview with TechRadar

See interview from TechRadar

ELSPA logo Paul Jackson: Our concern is this – the games industry needs to be reassured that the British Board of Film Classification would be capable of delivering against a new remit. There are two broad areas of concern.

Firstly, it looks as though the PEGI system currently delivers a harsher rating on games than (historically) the BBFC has – and we want to understand why that is happening and, if it's not right, how we can fix it.

The second area of concern is about 'future-proofing'. We know that our industry is going online and we know that the methodologies used with PEGI allow complete flexibility, because it is generated from within the industry. Every product has got a product manager, so every product can be self-assessed. And then the checks and balances that are so important come into play after that.

With the BBFC system that has been developed since the 1930s it is based around individual censors reviewing each and every product. Now what does that mean in a world where there are perhaps a million online elements a year which need to be classified? I don't know? That is where we need to make sure that we understand how the BBFC would be capable of delivering against that remit.

TechRadar: The BBFC told TechRadar recently that they were more than happy and confident to take on what they estimate to be an extra three to five hundred games a year.

Paul Jackson: Yes, and at the level of three-to-five hundred, who would question that? The question really is – 'what happens in that online space?'

As the industry goes online over the next three to ten years what we don't want to do, including the BBFC, I'm sure – and this is why we keep talking about 'future proofing' – is we don't want to invest in a system that effectively becomes redundant over the few years' time.

TechRadar: Why would it become redundant?

Paul Jackson: Well if – and there are many 'ifs' in this which is why we want to work with government and with the BBFC over the next 18 months – if, for instance, one scenario is that the games industry moves almost exclusively online and then the products that we are selling, many of those products fragment… So, The Sims would be a good example here. If you look at The Sims as a product, it's a £30 purchase at the point of display and then just look at the number of items that are already available to purchase online for The Sims. Every one of those in future will need to be referenced and classified. How will that be done?

Those are the areas of concern we have got, because we are certainly not talking five to six hundred 'elements' per year over the next ten years. We're talking about hundreds of thousands, millions, who knows?

We've tried to word our concern very clearly. We are concerned because we don't understand how that is going to work. And if it doesn't work, if we've not 'future proofed' then we just have a system that's going to last us the next three years. Which is not what any of us want.

 

2nd April   

Update: Google in Camera...

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Parliament committee inquire about YouTube censorship
Link Here  full story: Harmful Content...Parliament Inquiry: Internet And In Video Games:

Culture Media Sport committee Google resisted calls to screen videos before they appeared on YouTube, despite admitting it had been too slow to take down a clip which showed a 25-year-old mother being gang-raped.

The search giant was attacked by MPs after admitting it was "clearly a mistake" that a video showing the woman being raped was watched 600 times before being removed from YouTube, the video-sharing site it owns.

Giving evidence before a Commons select committee, Google's general counsel, Kent Walker, said it would go against the spirit of the internet to require all videos to be screened and resisted calls for tighter regulation of sites like YouTube.

Asked about the site's failure to take down the footage - which showed the mother being sexually assaulted by three boys after her drink had been spiked - more quickly, Walker told MPs: I do not know exactly what happened but it was a mistake.

Walker was giving evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport committee, which is investigating the dangers posed by the internet to children. He told the committee that YouTube's reviewers looked through "a huge amount" of material. He added that, of the offensive videos that were flagged to the site, more than 50 per cent were removed within half an hour. A large majority is removed within an hour.

Walker came under heavy fire from MPs, who said his inability to disclose how many staff were employed by Google to monitor footage flagged on YouTube suggested his defence was "incredible". Do you know how absurd you are sounding? asked Paul Farrelly, the Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Walker said, however, that it would be "neither efficient not effective for YouTube to screen the entirety of the content uploaded by its users - about 10 hours of footage every minute - before it was made public: That would burden the process of creativity. You do not have a policeman on every street corner to stop things from happening, you have policemen responding very quickly when things do happen.

 

31st March   

Danger!...

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New bill seeks to give ministers the power to change any law on a whim
Link Here

Ministry of Silly Walks

Sorry!
The Human Rights Act
has just been repealed by
the Minister of Silly Walks

Danger! Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill Part 6 tries to remove even the limited constitutional safeguards of the "destroy Parliament" Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006

It looks as if we will have to again go through all the fuss and lobbying that we saw over the wretched Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, the previous attempt by this Labour Government to neuter Parliament by Order of a Minister.

Part 6
FINAL PROVISION
43 Power to make consequential provision

(1) A Minister o the Crown, or two or more Ministers of the Crown acting jointly, may by order make such provision as the Minister or Ministers consider appropriate in consequence of this Act.

(2) An order under subsection (1) may --

(a) amend, repeal or revoke any provision made by or under an Act;

(b) include transitional or saving provision.

(3) An order under subsection (1) is to be made by statutory instrument.

(4) A statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (1) which amends or repeals a provision of an Act may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(5) A statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (1) which does not amend or repeal a provision of an Act is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

What happened to the supposed "super-affirmative procedure" and the whole of the debate in Parliament and in the UK political blogosphere over the wretched and controversial Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 then?

The abuse of the catch all, excessively broad wording "amend, repeal or revoke any provision made by or an Act" means that even the Constitutional Acts like Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights 1689, Habeas Corpus, the European Communities Act, the Human Rights Act, the Civil Contingencies Act etc. can all be repealed or amended without the need for a full debate, or for new Primary Legislation, simply by Order of a Minister.

 

30th March   

Realistic Amendments...

Lords amendments to delete dangerous pictures or restrict them to real acts
Link Here

House of Lords logo Significant Lords amendments have been tabled to Challenge the Dangerous Pictures clauses

LORD WALLACE OF TANKERNESS
BARONESS MILLER OF CHILTHORNE DOMER

Clause 63

Page 47, line 7, leave out "both"
Page 47, line 9, at end insert ", and
(c) records an actual act (whether performed in the United Kingdom or not) in which one or more persons committed a sexual offence"

Page 47, line 30, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—

"(b) is obscene as defined by section 1 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 (c. 66) (test of obscenity)"

Page 48, line 2, at end insert—
"(8A) In subsection (2) of this section, "a sexual offence" is an act which, if performed in the United Kingdom, would constitute an offence under Schedule 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (c. 42)."

These limit dangerous pictures to those of real (ie not staged) acts that are obscene or illegal

They have also submitted an amendment to leave out the Dangerous Pictures clauses in their entirety.

LORD WALLACE OF TANKERNESS
BARONESS MILLER OF CHILTHORNE DOMER

Leave out clause 63,63,65,66

 

28th March   

More Dangerous Talk...

Criminal Injustice Bill given more debating time
Link Here

House of Lords logo Lords debate on the Criminal Injustice Bill has been extended

Further Report debates have been added on 27/3/08; 2/4/08; 21/4/08 and 23/4/08. Third Reading is on 30/4/08.

The timetable means that the Lords are keeping the Bill with them almost right up the 8th May dead-line which suggests all the ping-pong is being played now so that any law can get pushed through the HoC by May.

Certainly, the JCHR raised some serious objections, although leaving much material illegal.

We genuinely do believe that letters written at this stage is having an effect on the debate. Please encourage as many people as you can to have their say.

Comment: Possessed by Inconsistency

Thanks to Alan

Re JCHR comments criticising the Dangerous Pictures clauses:

It looks like a small - very small - step in the right direction, BUT...

How does the "no intention to distribute" provision make sense with regard to an offence of possession? The effect would surely be that if Mr A has dangerous pics which he has bought from a website, with the performers adequately paid, he commits an offence, while Mr B, who has hacked the private dangerous pics of his neighbour, doesn't.

They STILL seem to be taking the REA by Kelly et al. seriously. They don't seem to have noticed the research by Petley and others which demonstrates that it's rubbish.

SeeNoEvil has an interesting snippet about Salter ("Saltmines") who has now started moaning about post office closures, when it's suddenly dawned on him that the consultation process is a load of crap. Now, where has that happened before?

 

27th March   

Proportionate or Not...

JCHR suggest changes that should be made to the Dangerous Pictures clauses
Link Here

House of Lords logo Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights has been considering the Dangerous Pictures Clause. They have not been particularly damning but have suggested a couple of areas where changes should be made:

2.16 The question is whether or not the proposed restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and respect for privacy are proportionate to the aims the Government seeks to achieve. The Government has stated that the offence is needed to protect individuals from participating in the offence, to break the cycle and to prevent vulnerable people, such as children, from coming into contact with the material. Whilst many people may find the material morally offensive, this alone is not sufficient to justify outlawing its possession. Given the particularly intrusive nature of the proposed offence on an intimate aspect of an individual's private life (his or her sexual conduct), weighty reasons are required to justify prosecuting people for possessing and viewing these images privately. We remain concerned that "serious injury" (Clause 63(7)(b)) may be subject to a broadly subjective assessment. This term must be interpreted in a way which does not lead to unjustified interferences in an individual's private life and discrimination on the basis of his or her sexual orientation or gender.[93] We recommend that the threshold for serious injury must include permanent physical harm.

2.17 There is some evidence, provided by the Government's rapid evidence assessment, of a causal link between viewing such material and an increased risk of committing sexual offences for a small number of people. However, the evidence does not extend to demonstrating that those who participate in the making of images are harmed by their involvement. We therefore recommend that the definition of the offence be further refined to exclude images created by consenting adults, where there is no serious physical harm to any participant and no intention to distribute the material beyond the participants involved. We recommend that guidance spell out factors which should be taken into account in order to ascertain that participants have consented. Such factors should include, for example, whether or not participants received payment.

 

25th March   

Offsite: Poor Quality Lawmakers...

MPs need to scrutinise our laws, not just wave them into existence
Link Here

House of Commons logo The most frequent public complaint about Parliament and government is not about alleged sleaze but about the quantity and quality of legislation. Whether you are in the private or public sector, or a private citizen, the main impact of Westminster is through the torrent of Acts and consequent regulations.

The real problem lies in the desire of ministers to be seen to be legislating: the number of Bills each session is a measure of departmental virility. But the adversarial procedures of the Commons inhibit adequate scrutiny and have not stopped poorly drafted legislation from becoming law.

The record of the Lords is better. The increased assertiveness of peers has forced the Government to amend Bills. Not only has the Government been defeated twice as often as before the removal of most of the hereditary peers in 1999, but ministers have accepted broadly, rather than sought to reverse, the Lords’ position in two fifths of these defeats.

...Read full article

 

23rd March   

Licensing a Miserable Life...

Labour look to more powers for councils to ban lap dancing
Link Here

Brown calls "Off with their Bollocks"

If ever you hear of British people
 enjoying themselves,
let us know, and we will put a stop to it

The politician in charge of Britain's licensing regime has announced he will review legislation which has opened the door to a string of fully nude lap-dancing clubs in Brighton and Hove.

Gerry Sutcliffe, the Minister responsible for licensing, told parliament he was concerned about the situation in the city and promised to consult with ministerial colleagues over a permanent change to the law.

He made the comments following a meeting with Hove MP Celia Barlow and city councillor Gill Mitchell to discuss supposed problems with the licensing act which has left nutters of Brighton and Hove City Council virtually powerless to stop clubs opening.

He said: We continue to review what can be done. We have made the right move in delegating the matter to local government, because it is right that local councillors and local government have the right to determine what goes on in their area. It is important that we look at the planning process and its objectives, and I am particularly concerned to hear that in Brighton, six lap-dancing clubs have been established in a very short time.

That problem will start to spread throughout the country, so I appreciate my honourable friend raising the matter. I will be happy to meet colleagues again to consider what can be done to ensure that [SOME!] local people get what they want in their local area.

Since the new licensing regime was introduced in November 2005, six clubs have been granted licenses for fully-nude dancing, although only four currently put on lap-dancing. Until that point only two operated in the city and nudity was not allowed.

Spearmint Rhino added to its international empire by opening the first fully nude club on East Street last year. The licence was approved by magistrates on appeal, overturning the council's initial rejection. Magistrates ruled that police could not establish the link between strip clubs and disorder and threw out the council's decision not to grant the East Street venue a licence.

Ms Barlow and the mean minded David Lepper, MP for Brighton Pavilion, both raised the supposed problem during a parliamentary debate on Wednesday.

She said: I am extremely encouraged by the minister's announcement. The current licensing act is wholly ineffective when it comes to regulating lap dancing clubs. These clubs have sprung up in the hearts of our communities, and I also welcome the announcement to contact local authorities over what more can be done under the current law to prevent these clubs from opening.

 

13th March   

Update: Literary Deprivation...

Anti safe sex nutter invited to talk to MPs about book banning
Link Here

Patrick O'Donoghue A Roman Catholic bishop has likened books which criticise the teachings of the Church to works that deny the Holocaust took place.

The Rt Rev Nutter Patrick O'Donoghue, Bishop of Lancaster, told MPs that books critical of the Catholic faith should be banned from school libraries.

Asked if that applied to works by authors such as Karl Marx and Albert Camus, he told the Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee: Suppose you went into a school and found in the library material that said the Holocaust never took place?

Fiona McTaggart, the Labour MP for Slough, said she was extremely concerned that Catholic sixth-formers would be denied access to great works of fiction as well as non-fiction if the bishop's ban were implemented. I would not expect a school to promote material that was lies but I also would also expect children to encounter a wide range of material even if they then need to be given the tools to criticise them, she said.

But Bishop O'Donoghue defended his stance. I think there has to be a vetting of material given the age range of children in schools. There is certain material that you do not put in front of them.

The bishop's summons to appear before the committee followed a document he produced last year which angered some MPs because of its strict line on sexual morality. In Fit for Mission?, Bishop O'Donoghue wrote: The secular view on sex outside marriage, artificial contraception, sexually transmitted disease, including HIV and Aids, and abortion, may not be presented as neutral information. "So-called" safe sex was based on the deluded theory that the condom can provide adequate protection against Aids. Schools and colleges must not support charities or groups that promote or fund anti-life policies, such as Red Nose Day and Amnesty International, which now advocates abortion.

 

11th March   

Drop It...

Verbal assault on the Dangerous Pictures Act in Lord's Committee
Link Here

House of Lords logo Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (LD)

The Government have brought forward helpful amendments which meet the arguments about "appears to" and result in a much better definition. However, I do not see that any of the amendments they have brought forward so far deals with the point made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

(ie This means that individuals seeking to regulate their conduct in accordance with the criminal law cannot be certain that they will not be committing a criminal offence by having certain images in their possession ).

We may not like it, but it is something that they do in the privacy of their own home. What entitles us as a legislature to pass something that is an invasion into their thoughts?

What really worries me about it is that we are asking these people to judge whether what they are seeing is going to fall within the remit of the Bill, before it ever gets to a jury. If they think that it does not, because they perhaps do not find it particularly exciting, and then for some reason their use is discovered, the police arrive and they are subsequently prosecuted, that will not sound like much of a defence. IS THERE SOMETHING ELSE THE GOVT CAN DO TO IMPROVE THIS CLAUSE? I suggest that this clause has been fairly rapidly arrived at, and it might be better to have something that is somewhat more substantial and over which more time has been taken. Perhaps a Joint Committee of both Houses could take evidence and look at the issue of violence and connection to crime, looking at substantial evidence from the UK, to SEE WHETHER WE CAN ARRIVE AT SOMETHING THAT IS SOMEWHAT MORE SATISFACTORY.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD)-

....the Government are still muddled as to how to approach the problem of the dissemination of extreme pornography, which is why they have introduced the new and, as I see it, much more subjective standard in Amendment No. 125B. That would insert a new subsection stating that an "extreme image" is one which is,

grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character.

The problem here lies in defining what is offensive and disgusting, which is naturally subjective. It is dangerous to attempt to comment in criminal law on where the boundaries of taste lie. As I understand it, pornography covers a wide range of acts of different levels of what might be described as extreme acts of a sexual nature. For legislation to attempt to draw subjective parameters is, at worst, unworkable and may criminalise people who would not otherwise have seen those acts as disgusting, particularly if they had filmed themselves committing the acts as consenting adults and were viewing them themselves. I suggest that in those conditions they would probably not find them offensive or disgusting.

Moreover, the definition of pornography will be left to the jury..... the Government are seeking to bring in legislation which is highly subjective and then they are leaving the test to be decided by juries, who could deliver very different outcomes in cases with similar content depending on the part of the country where they take place. The onus on the jury to define pornography will place good people in an invidious position on matters that are so sensitive that, if the law has to enter here at all, it should be law that is capable of being clearly understood and demarcated. THESE CLAUSES WILL NOT ACHIEVE THAT PURPOSE.

The Bishop of Chester

While I applaud the Government's attempt to get to grips with this issue, I share a feeling that THINGS ARE NOT RIGHT. My brief experience in your Lordships' House tells me that this number of amendments linked together usually means that the legislation is in difficulty.

I am with the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, here: if a clear link is established between pornography as we would generally describe it and child sex abuse, that is something we should seriously consider, even if that puts restrictions on other individuals. That is an objective criterion. If there is a criterion of "the common good", something about society on which we agree just for the good of society, that is also more objective. BUT TO LEGISLATE ON THE BASIS THAT THIS IS WHAT MOST PEOPLE DO NOT LIKE IS A RECIPE FOR TRANSIENT AND BAD LAW..

Lord Henley (Con)

Bearing in mind that the Government are anxious to save a bit of time on this Bill, when the Minister comes to respond he might want to take the amendment away, give it some further thought—possibly send it to a Select Committee, or whatever—and bring it back having done so.

.....he (Lord Hunt) might want to take the amendment away and bring it back on some other occasion after we have had some further thought about it and about how properly to define the mischief we are trying to address.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart (LD)

...I wholly agree with what the right reverend Prelate said about the anxiety that the Government have not come up with the right answers.

The definition of an image in Clause 113(3) that the Government's amendment seeks to amend is not capable of improvement by the amendment the Government have advanced.

I also think that the Government have not succeeded in improving the language in respect to what is extreme. The issue of whether something is grossly offensive is treated as though it were objectively definable. The fact that something is grossly offensive to one person does not necessarily reflect the general view.

The provision is just badly thought out. THE WHOLE THING NEEDS TO BE TAKEN BACK AND WORKED ON AGAIN. WE WILL BE LEGISLATING IN HASTE IF WE ALLOW THIS TO PASS; AND WE COULD REGRET IT VERY MUCH AT LEISURE

Baroness Howe of Idlicote (Crossbench)

I join other noble Lords in their CONCERN THAT THIS IS STILL PART OF THE BILL.

One urges the Minister and the Government to think again.

We appreciate why the Government have tabled their amendments—they have seen the concern and have tried to remedy it—but THEY CERTAINLY DO NOT SATISFY ME. MORE PROBLEMS ARISE FROM THE PARTICULAR WORDS THAT HAVE BEEN USED. I therefore join other noble Lords in asking the Government to THINK AGAIN. This is too vital an area for us to allow it to be simply an add-on—yet another thing.

...I therefore VERY MUCH SUPPORT THE CALL FOR A RETHINK OF ALL THESE CLAUSES.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness (LD)

There is still a degree of uncertainty about what the criminal law will be. If we are indeed about to create a statutory offence with the potential for a serious term of imprisonment, we really need something that stands up to scrutiny much more than the terms of the clause. In his final remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said something about trying to determine what the mischief is. I tried to think who the potential victims of this crime are. Is it those who participate, because if actual events are being filmed, clearly a crime of serious assault will have been committed in any event? If it is simulated and if people are engaged in a consensual activity, it is stretching things a long way to suggest that people who are engaged in that kind of consensual activity, albeit in an activity that may be abhorrent to most if not all of us here, should be criminalised for that.

It is quite clear that in the case of child pornography, a child is incapable of giving consent. Therefore, it is only right that that is totally beyond the pale and is criminalised. We should tread very warily before we engage in criminalising something that is consensual. It would be very odd if a couple engaged in a consensual act which in itself would not be criminal but, if it was photographed, the possession of the photographs could be criminal. That seems to be going too far. On those who are perhaps viewing this material, again I have difficulty in accepting that that might be the case.

In introducing his amendments, the Minister made the point about how the Government are trying to bring the definitions more closely in line with the Obscene Publications Act. I note that Section 1(1) of the Act provides:

"For the purposes of this Act an article shall be deemed to be obscene if its effect or (where the article comprises two or more distinct items) the effect of any one of its items is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it".

It has already been said in this debate that the type of people who are liable to see this are probably those who seek it out. It is very difficult to perceive, therefore, if one is trying to import the Obscene Publications Act, the type of people who are liable to see it and whether they would be victims of the crime intended to be created by this clause.

On whether the wider society could be the victims, my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer has indicated her concerns about the reference to the rapid evidence assessment referred to by the Minister. But it is equally the case that in the Government's consultation document on these proposals, both in the executive summary and on page 10, they acknowledge the question:

In the absence of conclusive research results as to its possible negative effects, do you think that there is some pornographic material which is so degrading, violent or aberrant that it should not be tolerated?

In their consultation document, the Government accept that the case is not made and that there has not been conclusive research to the effect that it has a negative effect on wider society.

Before we create this, we are entitled to ask who the victims are. As yet, I do not think that that question has been answered. Just because we may find the type of material abhorrent, that is very often the time when we should stop and pause. It is very easy to talk about defending liberties and freedom of expression when people are making comments about things that we most readily agree with. But, as the European Court of Human Rights said in the case of Müller v Switzerland,

it is applicable not only to 'information' or 'ideas' that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population.

We should hesitate before we go down this road. I agree with Members of the Committee who have said that there will be other ways to address our concerns; perhaps a Joint Committee of both Houses could look at the evidence, or we could tackle more and engage more with the internet service providers. In the long run, that may be a more effective way of curbing this activity rather than trying to create an offence, which many Members of the Committee have said has many weaknesses in it.

Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)

If the offence—not of producing and distributing material of this sort but of simply possessing it, never mind whether you are looking at it—is to be punishable by three years' imprisonment, it is necessary to know precisely what the limits, boundaries and purpose of that offence are to be. The clause may have been drafted after consultation, as the Minister said, but IT IS CLEARLY HELD ALL AROUND THIS HOUSE TO BE UNSATISFACTORY. IT SHOULD BE LOOKED AT AGAIN AND WITHDRAWN FROM THE BILL..

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)

I have already prayed in aid the rapid assessment (what?)

Lord Elystan-Morgan (Crossbench)

I very much doubt, with the greatest respect, whether the test, in so far as it is going to turn on the question of what the public in general feel is abhorrent, can be sustained.

The difficulty with abhorrence is that whereas most people would be able to agree absolutely where that line is in relation to honesty or dishonesty, people might have hundreds or thousands of different views about what exactly is abhorrent. To my mind the use of that word carries echoes of the Lady Chatterley trial, which must have been 50 years ago, and Mervyn Griffith-Jones, learned counsel for the Crown, exhorting the jury to consider whether that was the sort of disgraceful book they would allow their servants to read.

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)

I have always argued that extreme pornography of this kind has to be accessed on the internet using credit cards. Why have the Government not thought of it as a course to dealing with it? They could approach credit card companies and say, "It is your responsibility to put a block on these sites, and when someone seeks to use their credit card for this extreme pornography, they cannot do it". Why are we not seeking to address it that way rather than introducing the problem of finding a criterion that does not fall foul of the problems raised in this debate?

Comment: What Problem?

Thanks to Alan, 12th March 2008

What disturbs me is the mindset even of those who quibble with the detail of the DPA. For instance, Lady Falkner refers to the problem of the dissemination of extreme pornography.

What problem? So far as I can see, no politician in either the Lords of the Comics has made the obvious point that it is just plain wrong to throw people in the slammer because you don't like the contents of their video cabinet or hard drive.

 

7th March   

Update: Unbelievable...

The nonsense of blasphemy set for abolition after Lords vote
Link Here

House of Lords logo After an acrimonious debate in which the bogeyman of secularism was repeatedly invoked, the House of Lords on Wednesday accepted the amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill that abolishes the common law of blasphemy and blasphemous libel.

The amendment had originally been introduced by Lib Dem MP Dr Evan Harris in the House of Commons, but the Government had persuaded him to withdraw it after promising to introduce its own amendment later in the Lords. This it has now done with something less than enthusiasm.

The Bishops in the House were divided, some saying that the abolition was unnecessary and undesirable and others saying that it was inevitable and that the Church should therefore concede. The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, had agreed to the Government's amendment during a consultation, but expressed strong reservations about the timing of the move.

Prominent Christian activist Baroness O'Cathain launched a blistering attack on the amendment, with particular fury aimed at Evan Harris. Lady O'Cathain maintained that abolition of blasphemy would unleash a torrent of abuse towards Christians.

Lib Dem peer Lord Avebury pressurised the Government into keeping its word by tabling his own abolition amendment.

The Government had conducted a "short and sharp" consultation with the Church of England about the amendment, and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York both agreed not to oppose the abolition, although both questioned its timing.

Evan Harris said that this debate had been going on for 21 years, since the Law Commission had recommended abolition of the law, and for the Church it would never be the right time.
Lord Avebury also introduced other amendments to the Bill that would clear out some other ancient Church privileges, such as Section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act of 1860, under which Peter Tatchell was charged when he interrupted a sermon by the-then Archbishop of Canterbury in Canterbury Cathedral. Lord Avebury's amendments were rejected by the Government and opposed by the bishops.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society pointed out that although the UK blasphemy laws are in the course of abolition, there is growing pressure in the Islamic world to outlaw so-called "religious defamation", a kind of super blasphemy law. This pressure is being applied at the United Nations and its Human Rights Council. He commented: "If the United Nations Human Rights Council succumbs to the pressure from the Islamic countries to permit laws against religious defamation, it will be a major blow to freedom of expression, which underpins both democracy and civilisation itself. Nations who cherish freedom should wake up to the dangers of such moves, rather than sit idly by as they have done so far."

The following amendment was passed by 148 to 87:

BARONESS ANDREWS

144B* Insert the following new Clause—
"Blasphemy and blasphemous libel
(1) The offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel under the common law of England and Wales are abolished.
(2) In section 1 of the Criminal Libel Act 1819 (60 Geo. 3 & 1 Geo. 4 c. 8) (orders for seizure of copies of blasphemous or seditious libel) the words "any blasphemous libel, or" are omitted.
(3) In sections 3 and 4 of the Law of Libel Amendment Act 1888 (c. 64) (privileged matters) the words "blasphemous or" are omitted.
(4) Subsections (2) and (3) (and the related repeals in Schedule 38) extend to England and Wales only."

 

6th March   

Nailed...

Bishop of Chester criticises Dangerous Pictures clauses
Link Here

House of Lords logo The House of Lords committee recently debated the Dangerous Pictures clauses of the Criminal Injustice Bill.

The proposed law was widely condemned by most speakers but no useful amendments were moved. The Lords seemed to be particularly concerned that individuals could not be clear about whether they are breaking the law or not.

Alan points out that it is interesting that the Bishop of Chester is beginning to see to see the light and talk some sense about this daft proposal.

Particularly interesting as he's by no means at the liberal end of the theolological spectrum. In fact, if there was any part of the Criminal Injustice Bill about which I would have expected him to get aerated it was the "be nice to poofters" bit, in view of his earlier form .

Anyway, the Bishop of Chester contributed to the debate:

I would welcome a thorough look at the whole issue of what pornography is and its impact on our society. Clause 113(3), as amended by Amendment No. 122B, would state:

"An image is 'pornographic' if it is of such a nature that it must reasonably be assumed to have been produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal".

You can see that when you go into many newsagents in our society and look not just at the top shelf but at almost any shelf these days. Many of the soft porn films seem to have been produced precisely for that purpose.

The last thing we want to do is to produce an aura where everyone is a potential criminal. In one sense, we are and we need to acknowledge that, but that produces very negative reactions in the population. One can instance all sorts of ways in which that is the case. This whole area needs very careful examination not least in terms of whether there is any link between what is published and broadcast and crime. There are definitely imitative patterns of behaviour. There are the awful tragedies of the suicides in south Wales at the moment which is an illustration of how images can be created, as it were, and behaviour follows those images and is repeated. Sexual arousal is simply part and parcel of the whole of the creative world. When one looks at David Attenborough's series "Life on Earth", one sees that much of the depiction of the way in which the creative world operates is tied in with the reality of sexual arousal—let us be honest about it. If we are going to produce laws in this sort of area, they must carefully define what they are attempting to criminalise.

The clauses also seem to move between issues of violence and issues of pornography and sexual arousal. I know that they can often be linked, but I tend to think that they are often rather different. I think, from my own perspective, of the Christian faith, which has a violent image right at its heart: that of somebody being nailed to a cross. There are ways in which you could find portrayals of central features of the Christian faith covered by these clauses. Some people find them offensive; indeed, in one sense they are. There is such a deep subjectivity here that these things need careful consideration.

While I applaud the Government's attempt to get to grips with this issue, I share a feeling that things are not right. My brief experience in your Lordships' House tells me that this number of amendments linked together usually means that the legislation is in difficulty.

 

4th March   

Dangerous Lack of Clarity...

Lords criticise Dangerous Pictures clauses in committee
Link Here

House of Lords logo The House of Lords committee yesterday debated the Dangerous Pictures clauses of the Criminal Injustice Bill.

The proposed law was widely condemned by most speakers but no useful amendments were moved.

The Lords seemed to be particularly concerned that individuals could not be clear about whether they are breaking the law or not

However the Government agreed to have talks between now and the report stage. A tactic they have used before without actually resulting in any changes whatsoever

 

4th March   

Things They Know Nothing About...

Vaz internationally noted for ludicrous comments about rape in video games
Link Here  full story: BBFC Parliamentary Accountability...Julian Brazier BBFC Bill

Keith Vaz The time-honoured tradition of stodgy men arguing over things they know nothing about continued in England during last Friday's game censorship debate in the House of Commons, with MP Keith Vaz showing us how it's done while speaking in defense of Julian Brazier's bill to add a censorship level above the BBFC.

In comparing the interactivity of video games to movies, Vaz unleashed this little gem:

However, someone sitting at a computer playing a video game, or someone with one of those small devices that young people have these days, the name of which I forget, PlayStations or PSPs, something of that kind.

Well, whatever they are called, when people play these things, they can interact. They can shoot people; they can kill people. As the honourable Gentleman said, they can rape women.

The gentleman he is referring to is the bill's author Julian Brazier, though being completely off-base when quoting someone else doesn't excuse you from being off-base in the first place. The man can barely remember what these horribly offensive rape-machines are. When you have to struggle to remember what you were talking about in the first place it's probably a good indicator that you should sit down and shut up.

Luckily for British gamers, the House isn't completely full of uninformed idiots. Conservative MP Edward Vaizey actually took the time to check this claim out with the BBFC.

Is the honourable Gentleman aware of any video game that has as its intention the carrying out of rape or that allows the game player to carry out such an act? The BBFC and I are unaware of any such game.

Comment: A Mary Whitehouse experience

See also full article from Comment is Free by Alex Hilton

Irreversible DVD In his speech in parliament, Julian Brazier accused the film, Irreversible, of glamorising rape. It did no such thing. And while the film is extremely difficult to watch, you are left with a glimpse of how lives are destroyed by rape.

This is exactly why politicians should not set themselves up to be the arbiter of what the general population can and cannot watch on DVD and in the cinema. Politicians simply cannot be trusted to watch the films they would readily ban.

...Read the full article

 

1st March   

Update: Brazier Censored...

MPs wisely not sure that they want to become state censors
Link Here  full story: BBFC Parliamentary Accountability...Julian Brazier BBFC Bill

Julian Brazier Julian Brazier has failed in his bid to increase censorship of video games and films containing extreme violence.

Julian Brazier's plan would have allowed more appeals against BBFC rulings. He argued standards had been "watered down" and explicit films and games were fuelling a "tide of violence".

He was supported by several Tory and Labour MPs, but both front benches opposed it. The Lib Dems said it gave MPs undue influence over censorship.

Brazier's private member's bill failed when the debate ran out of time. Private member's bills allow individual MPs to introduce legislation on a subject of their choice.

Brazier's plan would have allowed an independent jury to reverse a ruling, if 50 MPs signed a Commons motion - even after the film or game was released. During a Commons debate, he cited the example of a previously banned video, SS Experiment Camp , which was re-examined by the BBFC and released in 2005. Another film, Irreversible , featured a nine-minute rape scene he said, adding: If this is not glamorising rape then it is difficult to imagine what would be.

His bill was supported by Labour MP Keith Vaz, who represents a seat in Leicester where the mother of murdered 14-year-old Stefan Pakeerah blamed his killer's obsession with the Manhunt video game - a view not supported by the trial judge.

Vaz said video games were different from films because they were "interactive": When they play with these things they are able to interact, they can shoot people, they can kill people, they can rape women and that's what is so wrong about the situation we have at the moment.

Another Labour MP, Stephen Pound, said there was a danger that in extremely violent films the sanctity of life becomes diluted , particularly when dealing with the young and impressionable.

Conservative MP John Whittingdale dismissed SS Experiment Camp as pretty tasteless and offensive but said scenes of sex and violence were mild compared to many mainstream films.
He said Mr Brazier's bill could do damage to the film industry and that the BBFC largely did a reasonably good job.

Lib Dem spokesman Don Foster suggested if MPs were to start signing a motion to get a title banned sales would absolutely rocket. I believe the proposals contained within this Bill would give politicians an undue and dangerous influence over these sorts of issues.

Culture Minister Margaret Hodge said the BBFC, while not getting it right every time did an extremely good job in incredibly difficult circumstances. She said the government had responded to concerns by asking Dr Tanya Byron to review whether more regulation to protect children was needed - due to report back next month. Urging MPs to await that report next month, she said legislation would not be effective on its own. Parents, internet service providers and others would also have to take responsibility.

She was still speaking as time ran out at 1430 GMT and the bill now stands no chance of becoming law.

Comment: Democracy Out of Time

From emark on SeeNoEvil

See No Evil logo I'm wondering why this private member's bill on the single issue gets debated for five hours, but the entire CJIB has slightly less for its second reading, and there wasn't enough time for people to debate the extreme porn clauses at all in the 3rd reading!

Comment: Foolish Brazier

Thanks to Wynter

Radio 5 live logo Mark Kermode successfully made Brazier look like a fool when he was interviewed on R5 Live on Friday afternoon.

Thanks to DarkAngel

Listen to the interview between Brazier and Kermode

Skip forward to the 2 hr mark, its only about 10 mins long, Brazier rehashes his tired old arguments that had only been debunked that morning, ie Manhunt being responsible for the death of a young lad, Mark Kermode rubbished his argument about films like Irreversible and pointed out to him that nobody knows more about classifying films than the BBFC who are already transparent and by allowing MP's or whoever to interfere wouldn't prevent these films from being released, it would just muddle up the classification process.

One thing Kermode should have rebuked was Braziers claims that rape and violence is going up as a direct result of the media. Which of course is nonsense!

 

1st March   

Update: We Don't Believe in Blasphemy...BUT...

Bishops backtrack on abolishing the nonsense of blasphemy
Link Here

Rowan Williams Senior Anglican bishops have warned the Government that they have serious reservations about the abolition of the blasphemy laws.

Dr Rowan Williams and Dr John Sentamu say in a letter today that the Government should not lightly change laws that, though their day-to-day importance may be small ...BUT... nevertheless carry a significant symbolic charge.

While not opposing abolition, they urge caution and question why the Government is pushing through the change now.

The abolition of blasphemy from the statute books moved closer this week with the tabling of a Government amendment in the House of Lords. The Bill is scheduled for debate on Wednesday.

The Government had promised in January that this would take place after a “short and sharp” consultation with the churches.

In a letter to Communities Secretary Hazel Blears, the Archbishops say that the pressing need for repeal is not clear and plead for more time to to assess the impact of the new offence of incitement to religious hatred.

They call on the Government to be clear why the offences are being abolished and to spell out what the implications are for Christianity in relation to State and society: At a time of continuing debate about the nature of our society and its values, this change needs to be seen for what it is, namely the removal of what has long been recognised as unsatisfactory and not very workable offences in circumstances in which scurrilous attacks on the Christian religion no longer threaten the fabric of society. It should not be capable of interpretation as a secularising move, or as a general licence to attack or insult religious beliefs and believers.

From the National Secular Society

NSS logo The Government amendment this week comes at a considerably earlier stage than had been expected as it is very unlikely that the consultation has been completed.

What appears to have happened is that the Government has been panicked into tabling its own amendment following a near identical one being tabled by Lord Avebury. Lord Avebury is a long-time secular campaigner.

The Government is determined that changes to blasphemy are made through their amendments, to give the appearance that they are in control.

See full article from Parliament

House of Lords logo A few of the Criminal Injustice Bill amendments knocking around

BARONESS ANDREWS

144B* Insert the following new Clause—
"Blasphemy and blasphemous libel
(1) The offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel under the common law of England and Wales are abolished.
(2) In section 1 of the Criminal Libel Act 1819 (60 Geo. 3 & 1 Geo. 4 c. 8) (orders for seizure of copies of blasphemous or seditious libel) the words "any blasphemous libel, or" are omitted.
(3) In sections 3 and 4 of the Law of Libel Amendment Act 1888 (c. 64) (privileged matters) the words "blasphemous or" are omitted.
(4) Subsections (2) and (3) (and the related repeals in Schedule 38) extend to England and Wales only."


EARL OF ONSLOW
BARONESS STERN

145 Insert the following new Clause—
"Blasphemy
The offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel are abolished."

LORD AVEBURY

148 Insert the following new Clause—
"Abolition of certain religious offences
(1) The following offences are abolished—
(a) blasphemy and blasphemous libel;
(b) any distinct offence of disturbing a religious service or religious devotions;
(c) any religious offence of striking a person in a church or churchyard.
(2) The following provisions are repealed—
(a) in section 1 of the Criminal Libel Act 1819 (60 Geo. 3 & 1 Geo. 4 c. 8), the words "blasphemous libel, or";
(b) in sections 3 and 4 of the Law of Libel Amendment Act 1888 (c. 64), the words "blasphemous or";
(c) section 59 of the Cemeteries Clauses Act 1847 (c. 65);
(d) section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 (c. 32);
(e) section 36 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 (c. 100);
(f) section 7 of the Burial Laws Amendment Act 1880 (c. 41)."

 

1st March   

Update: Dark Ages...

Internet industry quizzed about filters and user content websites
Link Here  full story: Harmful Content...Parliament Inquiry: Internet And In Video Games:

Culture Media Sport committee MPs of the Commons culture, media and sport select committee asked industry experts about filtering and user content websites.

John Carr, the executive secretary of the Children's Charities Coalition for Internet Safety, said that the industry could not be expected to be some sort of "moral arbiters" or "priests" for the public, deciding which content should be screened.

In school the headteacher sets the standards surrounding internet content, Carr added. It should be the same in the home ... there is no way we can legislate from the centre. The public policy challenge is in helping parents to understand the internet and in turn help children. Parents feel at sea about what to do. Safety software should be pre-installed and set to a high level.

Asked what he thought of the idea, Matt Lambert, head of corporate affairs at Microsoft, admitted that internet content filtering technology already provided by the company as standard with its software products was "not widely used".

But Lambert rejected the idea of a mandatory setting of content filters to a high security level, arguing that it would block too much content that posed no risk to children. Lambert said a better solution would be for parents to be better educated about what their children are looking at online and what content filters are available. Setting [filtering controls] at a high level is the equivalent to blocking the internet ... it would be living in the dark ages in my view.

Stephen Carrick Davies, the chief executive of Childnet International, a charitable body that promotes online safety for children, told the committee that one problem with policing the internet is that the concept of harmful content is difficult to define, unlike obviously illegal content such as child abuse images: Illegal content is easy [to define and regulate] while harmful is difficult. We need to recognise there is 'grey'. There is black and white but also grey.

He also pointed out that legislation against such a "grey" area could result in curbs of freedom of expression and that in a web 2.0 world of user-generated content it can often be young people themselves - those often seen as "passive victims" - who can perpetrate cyber bullying online.

Davies suggested the answer might lie in a three-pronged approach. He said this strategy would involve self-regulation by the industry; empowering, supporting and educating schools; and making sure that parents help children so they are savvy enough and equipped just as how they are when they walk down the high street.

 

28th February   

Update: Ratings Game...

BBFC vs PEGI consumer advice: Medium aggression and intensifying
Link Here  full story: Harmful Content...Parliament Inquiry: Internet And In Video Games:

Culture Media Sport committee The BBFC has hit back at suggestions that it doesn't provide a more effective ratings system than the PEGI version, as suggested by Microsoft's UK head of corporate affairs Matt Lambert, at a CMS Select Committee hearing yesterday.

Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz the BBFC has rejected those claims, and stated that while the body uses the same symbols as for films in order to enable a greater understand of the level of content to be expected in games, it doesn't classify games in the same way that we classify films, because we physically play the game.

The fact is, we provide consumer advice about the content - and extended information - on our Parents website about exactly the sort of things you can expect to encounter in the game, in all of the games we classify - and we do it in words, which people understand, they don't understand the pictograms.

We know this - in January we did research and the public really couldn't get their heads around what a spider meant. That is not sufficient information for them to make a decision.


What people think about the PEGI system is that it's a difficulty rating, said the spokesperson. One of the parents in our research groups was complaining that she had bought a game with a 3+ on thinking it was suitable for her child, and it turned out to be a complicated sports game - whereas if they see a PG12, they know it's going to have the sort of content (and here you can argue that the system is similar) as they would expect from a 12-rated film.

Just like when they get a film that's an 18, and says 'Strong bloody violence' they have an idea of what that is, because they've seen it in 18-rated films…The fact is, sticking a spider on the back of a box is not going to help a person make the kind of decision that they ought to be making about games.

The BBFC also underlined that during its review process it employs people that actually plays through the games, and noted the contrast with the PEGI methodology.

Unlike the PEGI system, which is purely a tick-box system filled in by the distributor themselves, the BBFC has very well-qualified games examiners - who are games fans themselves - to play the games right through all the levels, with the cheat codes, and spend a lot of time playing them so that they know what the content is.

 

27th February   

Update: Skill Levels...

High level bods debate harmful games
Link Here  full story: Harmful Content...Parliament Inquiry: Internet And In Video Games:

Culture Media Sport committee The Culture, Media and Sport Committee held its first oral evidence session as part of its inquiry into harmful content on 26th February 2008.

Videogame developers should dis-incentivise gamers from long periods of play by allowing players to achieve the highest scoring aspects of a title early on in the game's life cycle. That's according to John Carr, executive secretary at the Children's Charities Coalition for Internet Safety.

He raised the argument that there were a number of concerns over videogames, other than the issue of violence – including reports of children "dying at their consoles" – that need to be addressed.

While fellow panellist at the hearing Professor Sonia Livingstone, from the London School of Economics, pointed out that there is no clear evidence that videogames provide benefits to children, she also pointed out that there is no clear evidence that they harm children either - but there was evidence suggesting repetition of actions could be a problem.

Professor Livingstone also raised the subject of age ratings in games, and highlighted reports that large numbers of children played games at home that according to the ratings were not appropriate.

Carr then added his belief that some parents misunderstood the nature of age ratings, believing them to relate more to a general skill level suggestion, instead of advice on potentially damaging content.

The consensus among the panel was that parents needed more help and better tools to educate themselves and their children about the potential dangers online.

See full article from GamesIndustry.biz

Matt Lambert, Microsoft's head of corporate affairs in the UK, stated his belief that the PEGI ratings system was better than the BBFC version.

When committee chairman John Whittingdale asked Lambert about the apparent confusion for parents over age ratings for videogames – particularly the belief that they represented skill levels instead - Lambert replied that he hadn't seen any evidence of such confusion, and that internal research indicated that 96% of parents were in fact aware of the presence of age ratings.

Instead he pointed to anecdotal evidence which led him to believe parents instead weren't concerned about applying those ratings. And on the question of which of the two ratings systems that exist in the UK was preferable, Lambert indicated that he believed PEGI was more effective.

If there's going to be one ratings system, it should be PEGI. With PEGI, they think very carefully about age appropriacy…but the BBFC is set up to rate films, and it takes that approach for games when a different approach is required.

PEGI breaks it down to a different level. If there's bad language it will give you a specific symbol, if there's gambling there's another symbol, and some games will have a whole raft of symbols on the back. It's a different depth, it's more sensible, and it also has a European aspect to it.


The chairman then responded to the answer by pointing out that the BBFC itself would contradict such a view – that it believes the PEGI methodology to be inferior, and employs specialists who look at hours of gameplay when coming to a decision: I'm not saying that's wrong, and I apologise if I gave the impression that that's not what they do - though they would say that they are the best. But I do believe that the BBFC's thinking clearly comes from the world of film [and not games], that's definitely true.

 

25th February   

Update: Censor Brazier...

Brazier gets his moment on TV
Link Here  full story: BBFC Parliamentary Accountability...Julian Brazier BBFC Bill

Julian Brazier The Politics Show for the South East on Sunday 24 February at 12:00 on BBC One.

Film censorship is hitting the big screen again, as Canterbury MP, Julian Brazier, believes violent films and video games could be responsible for acts of violence.

The Bogey Man, Death Trap, The Evil Dead and Zombie Flesh Eaters . Just a few films that over the years have been called 'video nasties'.

The Canterbury MP Julian Brazier believes films like these, and also violent video games could be responsible for people committing acts of violence.

He quotes the case of Warren Leblanc who admitted murdering his 14-year-old friend Stephan Pakeerah with repeated blows from a claw hammer and knife.

Stephan's mother has publicly attributed the murder to Leblanc's obsession with playing the video game Manhunt, although the trial judge did not confirm her view.

Brazier also talks about the film Eastern Promises . This, he says, includes graphic scenes of throat slitting, child prostitution and a man having an eye gouged out.

So next week Julian Brazier's Private Member's Bill to make the BBFC accountable to Parliament will get its second reading. He claims that in the last few years the BBFC has followed a policy of allowing increasingly violent and sexual material onto the market.

There are several points to Brazier' s Bill:

  • He wants Parliament to choose the four main officers of the BBFC. At present the BBFC makes all it appointments internally.
  • He believes Parliament should have powers to force the BBFC to tighten its guidelines
  • He wants MPs to have the right to appeal against a classification. At present only the industry can appeal a decision - either to restore cut material or to lower a classification, but not to raise it or to have it banned.

So on Sunday we hear from Julian Brazier himself, and we get the views of a leading academic on whether there is any link between violence and the movies.

Update: No Accountability for BBFC Accountability Bill

25th February 2008

Thanks to DarkAngel on the Melon Farmers Forum
See Brazier on The Politics Show on YouTube

YouTube logo John Beyer was on there spouting the usual bollox. For those who haven't seen it I uploaded it to YouTube. I also tacked on the email replies at the end of the programme which, if they are anything to go buy, shows who is in touch with public opinion (and it ain't Brazier or Beyer).

Regarding public accountability, if I write to Brazier in opposition of his bill he would simply reply that I am not one of his constituents and I should write to my own MP about it.

So I write to my own MP and he tells me that he's not even going to be in Parliament on the day its being discussed.

So how exactly are MPs accountable to their public who's freedoms they are trying to restrict?

 

23rd February   

Update: Extreme Amnesty...

Salter concerned that his Dangerous Pictures Act could get de-prioritised
Link Here

Martin Salter Yesterdays item about Martin Salter's question about commitment to the Dangerous Pictures clause has now been transcribed.

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour):

The Deputy Leader of the House will be aware of the long-standing support of three Home Secretaries and 180 MPs of all parties, as well as Amnesty International, women's organisations, faith groups and thousands of individuals, for the Jane Longhurst campaign against violent internet pornography. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government intend to deliver quickly on the assurances given at the Dispatch Box by the Justice Secretary to include the promised measures in the forthcoming Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill that is currently in the other place?

Helen Goodman (Parliamentary Secretary, House of Commons):

Of course I am well aware of this important issue, and of the effective campaigning that my hon. Friend has done to raise the issue with Ministers and in the House. The Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill contains many good, important measures. As he knows, it is vital that the Bill secures support in both Houses to a reasonable timetable. That means that difficult decisions sometimes have to be made. However, I am sure that my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice are aware of the public support for the measures that my hon. Friend has mentioned, and I will refer the matter to the Secretary of State.

David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion, Labour):

Further to the assurances that the Deputy Leader of the House has just given to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) on legislation to deal with violent internet pornography, she will be aware that the need for such legislation was highlighted by the brutal murder some five years ago of my constituent, Jane Longhurst, a respected teacher.

Assurances have been given in the past by the Government. In addition to the reminders that the Deputy Leader of the House has undertaken to give to her colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, will she also remind them of the 50,000-signature petition on the issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West and I presented to Parliament, and of the fact that the Dutch Parliament, as well as other European Parliaments, is carefully watching what happens in the House with a view to introducing legislation along similar lines?

Helen Goodman (Parliamentary Secretary, House of Commons):

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making those points, which I shall relay to colleagues in the Ministry of Justice.

Comment: Any Lords Amendment May Stick

Thanks to Harvey the Melon Farmers Forum

Salter and Lepper certainly seem to think that if the Lords amend the Dangerous Pictures Act in a way which is not to their liking, the government may not force the issue in the Commons by sending the Bill back.

Salter was trying to get a public confirmation from the government that they would do. But the Deputy Leader of the House refused to give one. Interesting that; a) Salter thinks the Lords will vote to amend the DPA, and b) the government wouldn't give a commitment to reverse it in the Commons.

Perhaps Goodman's reply and mention of "difficult decisions" means that the government   would prefer have the remainder of the CJI Bill passed quickly, rather than play ping-pong with the Lords over the DPA.

Comment: Depicting Life Threatening Injury of the Truth

Thanks to Alan

Notable, and already spotted by the good folk over at Backlash, is his claim that Amnesty supports the Dangerous Pictures Act. In parliamentary psychobabble, he was "misleading the House". In plain English, he was lying. Amnesty takes no position on the proposal.

This follows his bizarre performance in the second reading. Jack "Boot" Straw breathes his pieties about the unacceptability of slagging people off because of their sexuality, and Salter launches into a squalid rant about sadomasochists which appears on any objective criterion to be slagging people off because of their sexuality. Apart from the twaddle about non-existent "snuff" movies, Salter also seemed not to understand the effect of the legislation he supports so assiduously, referring to people going to jail if they PUT IT ON THE INTERNET. People can quite legally "put it on the internet" in places like the USA, Hungary or the Czech Republic. It's those downloading it who are in trouble.

If somebody had told me twenty years ago that by 2008 material legally produced and distributed in the countries of the Warsaw Pact could only be circulated in samizdat form in the UK and that the government would be contemplating imprisoning people just for owning it, I'd have thought he was barmy....

 

23rd February   

Update: Nuts up Top...

Scottish MPs support campaign to get lads mags top shelved
Link Here  full story: Lads Mags...Blaming lads mags for all the world's ills

Margaret Forbes with lads mag A nutter's campaign against lads mags has won the support of an influential group of MSPs.

MSP Gil Paterson this week lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament congratulating the efforts of Margaret Forbes who launched a one-woman campaign demanding men's mags such as Loaded and Nuts be tucked away on top shelves.

She argues the magazines' front covers are in the same league as soft porn, and objects to them being displayed in lower shelves alongside more family-friendly lifestyle magazines in sight of children.

Now she has won support from politicians from the three main parties in the Scottish Parliament after they heard supermarket chain Morrison's has chosen to stock the magazines more discreetly.

Paterson, vice convener of a parliamentary group on violence against women and children, has also written to justice secretary Kenny McAskill over the issue.

The motion has been backed by 16 MSPs. As well as congratulating Margaret, it argued that Parliament should support her campaign to encourage other supermarket chains and vendors to follow the example set by Morrisons.

Paterson said: It's the general attitude towards porn, and the fact children are exposed to it and the normalisation of it that I'm concerned about.

Ms Forbes said: I'm very much encouraged because I feel like I've been doing it on my own. I've been feeling very isolated and a lot of times I get doors slammed in my face when I go round with my petition. But there is still more to go, because we need to get other supermarkets to do the same.

 

22nd February   

Maybe Hope...

Salter concerned that Dangerous Pictures law is being ejected from Criminal Injustice Bill
Link Here

Martin Salter During questions on future Commons business, Martin Salter and David Lepper sought assurances that the Government would include restrictions in access to violent online pornography in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which is going through the House of Lords, ..

Salter (Reading West) referred to the long-standing support of three Home Secretaries, 180 MPs of all parties as well as Amnesty International and thousands of individuals, women's organisations and faith groups and others who supported the Jane Longhurst campaign against violent internet pornography.

He asked Deputy Leader of the House, Helen Goodman to confirm that the Government intends to deliver quickly on the assurances given at that despatch box by the Justice Secretary (Jack Straw) to include these promised measures within the forthcoming Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill that is currently in the House of Lords.

Ms Goodman said she was aware of the issue, stating: The Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill contains many important and good measures. As you know, it's vital that the Bill secures support in both Houses to a reasonable timetable. This means that sometimes difficult decisions have to be taken.

She added: However, I'm sure that my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) are aware of the public support for the measures which you have mentioned and I will refer the matters to the Secretary of State.

 

21st February   

Update: Wait On Byron...

Brown and Brazier at Prime Ministers Question Time
Link Here  full story: BBFC Parliamentary Accountability...Julian Brazier BBFC Bill

Gordon Brown with his scissors Julian Brazier returned to the stage in Prime Minister's Question Time and asked about reform of the BBFC and implicitly for support of his BBFC Accountability bill.

Julian Brazier (Canterbury, Conservative):

Following the Prime Minister's reply to the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) a few weeks ago, does he now accept that there is an urgent need for reform of the British Board of Film Classification? What possible justification can there be for the board's decision to release into British high street outlets videos and DVDs such as SS Experiment Camp , which shows in voyeuristic detail women being tortured to death by SS camp guards?

Gordon Brown (Prime Minister):

I share the hon. Gentleman's concerns. I think it is true to say, as I have looked at it, that the British Board of Film Classification has put a higher category on many films in a different way from that recommended by the distributor, but it is also true to say that he expresses the concerns of many people among the general public. That is why I have agreed to meet him and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) to talk about the issues, and why we set up the review headed by Dr. Tanya Byron. It will report very soon, and on the basis of that we can make recommendations for the future. As for the Conservatives who say it is wrong to review the issues, I say that the right thing to do is to review them and then make a decision.

I interpret Gordon Brown's reply as telling Brazier that he is jumping the gun and should wait on the Government commissioned Byron report.

But the Daily Mail interpreted this somewhat differently and present Brown's support for the Byron Review as if it were support for Braziers effort

See full article from the Daily Mail

Daily Mail logo Gordon Brown yesterday signalled his support for a crackdown on the sale of films, DVDs and video games containing appalling scenes of violence.

The Prime Minister said he shared the concern of MPs from all parties who want new controls on increasingly violent and sexual material.

A bid to impose new legal curbs is to be launched in the Commons next week amid concerns that they could trigger attacks by impressionable teenagers and adults.

A review ordered by Brown is expected to lead to reform of the BBFC, which is responsible for classifying films and games.

Critics say that in recent years, it has adopted a policy of allowing virtually anything to be shown to adults and increasingly offensive material to be shown to adults.

 

15th February   

Update: Net Censor...

Proposing the Internet Standards Authority
Link Here  full story: Internet Standards Authority...Hugo Swire MP proposed internet censorship

Hugo Swire going nowhere fast Internet (Child Protection)

Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con):

Seven or so years ago, a Home Office Minister said in a parliamentary answer on the task force for child protection that the

aim is to make the United Kingdom (UK) the best and safest place in the world for children to use the internet

Last year, however, 32% of children said that they had received unwanted, nasty or sexual comments while on the web. Freedom of information and the unhampered exchange of that information are, of course, at the heart of a free world. What we do not want is Government control of the internet, such as exists in China and elsewhere. The internet is a space for creativity, communication and a fantastic tool for use in education. Too often, any discussion of internet safety leads to the internet being labelled as a bad thing. Clearly, the reverse is the case, but internet users should expect a degree of protection not least from fraud and illegal content, and, for our children, from harmful content.

I start by paying tribute to the impressive work of Dr. Tanya Byron and her Byron review, and I look forward with interest to her recommendations. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee—whose Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), is present—is about to start taking oral evidence on this issue, and my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) has put forward a private Member's Bill to classify video content downloads, in order to help protect children, among other things. So I believe that this subject is topical.

Tonight's debate takes on increasing relevance given the recent spate of suicides in Bridgend. Today, we awoke to the tragic news that there had been a 14th victim. The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) has raised this in Parliament and has secured an Adjournment debate tomorrow, which I am sure will be well attended.

The Government have the option to make content illegal, as they have with extreme pornography, race hatred and child abuse. The Government also have a role to protect children, and that is what I want to focus on this evening. Schools' hard-pressed IT departments do not have the resources, nor parents the know-how, to protect our children.

Another problem is that eight Government Departments have an interest in internet content: the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Health, the Foreign Office, the Cabinet Office, the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. There is a real lack of ownership within Government of internet content regulation.

The Government can solve that by establishing a lead Department and developing a co-regulatory structure to regulate internet content, bringing together, for example, charities, parents, academics, relevant Government Departments, law enforcement agencies and the industry itself, to decide codes of conduct in grey areas. That could work along the lines of the Advertising Standards Authority or the Press Complaints Commission, and would replace the current piecemeal and knee-jerk codes of conduct and self-regulation; let us call it the “internet standards authority”. Harmful content—that is content where cultural, taste and decency judgments have to be made—would come under the internet standards authority remit and could include glorification of violence and terrorism, pornography, cyber-bullying, suicide, internet gambling and anorexia websites, some of which Members might think are worth banning. However, the list is not exhaustive.

The internet standards authority would build a dynamic filter and create a blacklist database which would be updated hourly. Internet service providers would then offer two choices of content, one for adults and one for children. I envisage the child content would be the default, with adult content accessed with a pin code, or some such protective device. South Korea is an example of where that ISP regulatory system has been successfully implemented, and Australia is considering it. Further filtering could continue at the personal computer level “on the fly” which would look for unacceptable terms and images.

Robust internet filtering is a technological area that is fast developing, although it is not there yet, which is why I believe ISPs should take the lead in filtering at the network level. I know the British Standards Institution is developing a kitemark, which is a welcome, if belated, development. Hopefully, technological progress will solve some of the issues that we cannot control now. Webcams and peer-to-peer and encrypted content will always present challenges. I do not intend to predict future technological innovations, but filtering web 2.2 generation content when, for example, eight hours of footage per minute is uploaded on to YouTube, will present challenges.

An internet standards authority would be more responsive to new internet trends and lighter on its feet than Government legislation. Perversely, ISPs are being held back from implementing best efforts to protect customers and children lest they be held liable for overblocking or for harmful content being accessed. A number of ISPs do offer content-filtering for children, such as AOL's KOL Jr. pre-school, KOL ages six to 12 and RED ages 13 to 17, and I welcome that, but ISPs are as concerned as I am about the low take-up of available tools. That is why I believe my opt-out approach has merit. An internet standards authority would have the ability to promote its work and improve transparency while also educating parents and ensuring that children surf responsibly.

Promoting a safer environment and raising awareness—what I describe as soft power improvements—also present challenges and will cost money. Internet playgrounds should be supervised in the same way as parks used to be supervised. We need to empower parents and teachers so they are able to supervise, advise and guide children in exploring the online world.

We need to set up a new co-regulatory structure, an internet standards authority, to fight illegal and harmful content, promote a safer environment and raise awareness. ISPs should deliver an acceptable service for children whereby they would be able safely to access the internet while adults could access all other content through a PIN or similar device. We should ensure that internet companies that advertise carry responsibility messages, such as those we see on alcohol advertising and cigarette packages. A hotline number in the UK is operated by the excellent Internet Watch Foundation, and it should be displayed. We need to empower parents, teachers and children in respect of their responsibilities and the risks of going online. Finally, any internet-ready platform should be sold with a robust, self-updating, tamper-proof internet filter pre-installed.

Those proposals are not about censorship; they are about creating the regulatory environment to enable our children to surf safely, so that they can expand the horizons of their knowledge. Of course, I do not believe we can remove all risk to children, but we can make this country a safer place in what, at times, seems to be an increasingly dangerous world for our children.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Vernon Coaker) :

I congratulate the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) on securing this important debate, and thank him for the measured way in which he put some important points to the House. He made a good contribution to the discussion on this matter. I know that he takes an interest in this subject and is very knowledgeable about it.

I also welcome the attendance of the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), who is Chair of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. We all look forward to the work that it is going to do in an incredibly important area. In many respects, as soon as one moves forward in the virtual and internet world, one almost has to move forward again. This evening's debate, albeit short, will play an important part in continuing to raise awareness of this extremely important issue. I look forward to the Committee's inquiry and to the continuing dialogue that the hon. Member for East Devon doubtless wishes to take place. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to come to the Department to talk about these matters, that would be useful—I extend that invitation to all those who wish to participate in such talks.

John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con):

I am grateful to the Minister for his kind words. My hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) made the valid point that there are many Departments involved in this issue. It appears that Dr. Byron is taking the lead in setting up her review, and that is being conducted mainly under the Department for Children, Schools and Families, supported by officials from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, so while I am delighted to see the Minister here this evening, I am slightly puzzled about why the Home Office is responding to the debate. Perhaps he could say something about how all these different Departments will work together.

Coaker:

I will address that issue, but as chair of the Home Secretary's taskforce for child protection on the internet I have worked with officials from many Departments, who come to the meetings and are involved in developing good practice and discussing the various issues. The Department for Children, Schools and Families is a new Department, with a particular emphasis on preventing harm to children and protecting families, and that is one reason why the Byron review is being conducted under that Department. However, I have also met Dr. Byron, and will do so again, to talk about the work that we are doing. I know that she is especially interested in the way that the taskforce has taken the agenda forward. It has brought not only Departments together, but industry and children's charities—those who have an interest in making progress in this area.

Whatever system we set up—and the Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford may also consider that—it is important to ensure that the work of Departments is co-ordinated and that we involve industry and stakeholders in the machinery of government. We will see over the next few weeks that that collaboration and co-operation has resulted in significant progress, without any debate about possible legislation.

The hon. Member for East Devon mentioned the terrible events in Bridgend, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) has a debate on the issue tomorrow. She has already met with various people to discuss those events. I wish to extend my sympathy to the families and all those affected. However, the issues behind the deaths are likely to be very complicated. We are very much aware of some media reports claiming that there is an internet aspect to these incidents, but other reports cast doubt on that. It would be wrong to prejudge the investigations that are already taking place, and we will wish to follow further developments closely.

We also recognise that young people will discuss many difficult issues, including that of suicide, on various websites. That requires very sensitive handling and we need to be wary of preventing them from discussing their thoughts and feelings openly. We are working, through the Home Secretary's taskforce for child protection on the internet, with social networking companies to ensure that there are links to support bodies such as ChildLine and the Samaritans for those who seek support and advice on this issue.

On the very separate matter of what are commonly referred to as suicide websites, the Government have been working with service providers to discourage them from hosting sites that appear to encourage suicide. While the internet remains a fantastic environment for obtaining all sorts of information, there is no doubt that it does have a darker side. Indeed, the Prime Minister has recently shown his concern about the issue of harmful and inappropriate content by setting up the Byron review. The Byron review team has been doing a lot of work to gather views from all stakeholders, and is due to report in March. The Home Office fully supports the review, and looks forward to seeing the final report. I have met with Dr. Byron and her team, as I said, and have been impressed by the work that they are doing—indeed, one member of her team attended the most recent taskforce meeting—and the approach that they are taking in working with all groups to look at the problems in this area.

The internet and mobile technologies have helped to provide children with education, entertainment, and the ability to communicate with their friends. These technologies bring our children new opportunities and lots of fun, but we need to balance that with the risks and worries that parents have about their children accessing inappropriate content.

There is no doubt that most of the time the internet is a safe place, and the Government have encouraged its use in schools and the home. It therefore rightly falls on Government to help to develop a response to help protect our children and we have been active in that area. Since 2001, the Home Secretary's taskforce has been a very successful method of bringing together Departments, industry, law enforcement and charities to develop measures to help protect children from illegal content and sexual predators in the fast-moving world of technology and the internet.

The taskforce is periodically reviewing its membership and is eager to include all bodies involved in protecting children online. Indeed, cyber-bullying is a relatively new phenomenon and we are looking to widen the range of partners involved in the taskforce in order to look at the issue more closely. I look forward to meeting the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan), to discuss the matter in the near future.

I would welcome further information from the hon. Member for East Devon on the South Korean model that he mentioned. That could be a good focus for the meeting that I suggested. If the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford wants to come to that meeting, I would be happy to hear in more detail about the points that he has made. I am not averse to learning from other countries. If they have something that might benefit us, we ought to try to learn from that. I will be happy to meet both hon. Gentlemen and to talk to them about that model.

I welcome the support that industry has given to the process, which I believe is an exceptionally useful method for tackling issues effectively and in a collaborative way through self-regulation and without the need for legislation. One of the major pieces of work that the taskforce has recently completed is the definition of a British Standards Institution specification for filtering tools for home users of the internet. Although filtering tools have been around for many years now, concerns have been raised about the effectiveness of the tools and their usability.

The new specification will allow the developers of filtering products to test them against the standard designed to protect children and other users from illegal or unsuitable content. That specification has been developed with the BSI, Ofcom and industry and will be launched in the near future. Companies whose products pass the tests will be able to display the child safety online kitemark on their products, allowing members of the public to identify them as having reached that standard. I want to encourage as many companies as possible that offer filtering products to the market to apply for the kitemark once it is launched. I am sure that we all hope that that will happen.

All hon. Members will also be aware that the internet is misused by paedophiles to share and distribute terrible images of children being sexually abused. We also know that adults will use the internet to gain access to children and young people so that they can groom them for sexual abuse. I am sure that we all agree that everything that can be done should be done to prevent the distribution of these images and to protect children from unwanted contact from predatory adults.

The Internet Watch Foundation was funded and formed by the industry in 1996 following agreement between the Government, police and the internet industry that a partnership approach was needed to tackle the distribution of child sexual abuse images on the internet. The IWF operates the only authorised hotline in the UK for the public to report their inadvertent exposure to illegal content on the internet, providing a notice and take-down service to internet service providers in the UK so they can remove potentially illegal content from their servers. The IWF works closely with law enforcement agencies at home and abroad to help them trace offenders.

The IWF estimates that since 2003, less than 1 per cent. of child abuse image websites are hosted in the UK compared to 18 per cent. in 1996. We would all like that figure to be 0 per cent., but that shows considerable progress. In addition, the IWF has developed a service to provide a list of URLs where illegal images are hosted. That list, which has been made available to the industry, enables the sites containing child abuse images to be blocked.

Since 2004, blocking of these sites on consumer broadband in the UK has gone from nothing to 95 per cent., thanks to the work carried out by the industry. The Home Office is working with a number of smaller ISPs to identify ways that they can implement blocking economically. Once that has been done, the number of connections covered by blocking will rise further.

Whittingdale:

The Minister is right that the IWF has done a great deal to tackle the problem of child pornography on the internet, but the “Panorama” programme a few weeks ago exposed the problem of paedophiles posing as young girls to access social networking sites. That enables them to find out information that they are then able post for almost anybody to see. What progress has been made in dealing with that?

Coaker:

One problem is that paedophiles will always try to find a way around our attempts to keep them out. The guidance on social networking that we will publish soon will look at what is good practice for ISPs in tackling that problem, but CEOP—the child exploitation and online protection centre—and other organisations are also taking the law enforcement approach. If the hon. Gentleman has not visited Jim Gamble and CEOP already, he should consider doing so, as that would enable him to see all the different types of work being undertaken. The people involved—police officers, technical experts and others—are very dedicated in their attempts to trap the paedophiles who use the internet in such a horrific way.

The work is hi-tech, because paedophiles who suspect that they have been traced tend to move on. Moreover, they have astonishing technical expertise in using the internet, and that can be countered only by people with matching ability. I am sure that anyone who sees what is being done by CEOP will be as impressed as I have been.

Blocking is not an issue for personal computers only: with more and more children using mobile phones, and with mobile phone technology growing exponentially, it is imperative that we engage with that part of the industry. All UK mobile phone providers are members of the Home Secretary's taskforce and have actively supported the development of good practice models. They are also members of the IWF and have agreed to block customer access to sites that the IWF has listed as containing illegal images of child abuse.

Mobile telephone operators in the UK have been pioneers in the protection of their child customers. They have shown that they take protecting children from inappropriate content very seriously, and they were the first in the world to publish a self-regulatory content code for mobiles. That requires customers to prove that they are at least 18 years of age before they can get access to adult commercial content.

As chair of the taskforce for child protection on the internet, I know how important it is to ensure that we remain ahead of the game when it comes to protecting children. I am proud of the taskforce's work: it has attracted interest from around the world, with many people asking how it operates. Since its inception, the taskforce has developed good practice guidance for web services, the internet, relay chat, safe searching and moderation services, but we all know that the internet keeps evolving. For example, very few of us had heard of social networking sites 18 months ago, but many millions of people now have profiles or web pages on such sites.

A multi-stakeholder project group from the taskforce has been working on developing good practice guidance for social networking and user interactive services. Leading players in the industry—and especially those involved in providing social networking services—along with CEOP, the child protection charities and others have been involved in, and contributed to, the production of the good practice guidance. I am pleased to say that the document will be launched in the near future, and I should like to ask the hon. Members for East Devon and for Maldon and East Chelmsford to attend that event. I hope that they will be able to accept that invitation.

As most hon. Members will be aware, CEOP was established in April 2006 to tackle the abuse and exploitation of children and young people, particularly from sexual predators who use the internet to distribute illegal images of children and young people, and to gain access to them so that they can be groomed for abuse. Staffed by the police, as well as child protection, education and industry specialists, the centre provides a single online 24-hour-a-day mechanism for reporting those who seek to use the internet to abuse children.

On a point that the hon. Member for East Devon raised, CEOP launched and ran an education programme, which last year reached 1.1 million children and their parents. He made the important point that we must educate not only children, but parents, so that they understand what their children can do on the internet. I am sure he that, like me, finds that when he talks to parents, they sometimes have a much more limited understanding of the virtual world than their children do. We all have a big role to play in trying to help parents understand what is possible on the internet, so that they can work with their children to try to protect them, although the state must do its bit, too.

As I say, CEOP works with parents, and it plans to ensure that a further 3.5 million children are reached over the next two years, and that every primary school is provided with free resources. It also runs the thinkuknow website for children, parents and teachers. Since CEOP began operating in April 2006, some 240 offenders have been arrested, three paedophile rings have been smashed, and 138 children have been rescued from harm. That is a major achievement for UK law enforcement, and the creation of CEOP makes it clear that we are determined to protect children in the digital environment.

Today's children are sophisticated users of the internet, and their knowledge of it is ever-evolving, but we should never forget that they are children. Protecting them must therefore continue to be one of our priorities. The fact that the work is about protecting children in our communities can often get lost in all the technology issues. A collaborative approach to tackling the issue is essential if we are to prevent the exploitation of children on the internet. By working together with industry, Government, law enforcement agencies, children's charities and other interested parties, the taskforce has made progress in protecting children online. However, I recognise that there is always more to be done.

I welcome the Byron review, and I welcome the hon. Gentleman's debate. I look forward to meeting him, and perhaps the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford, to discuss the subject, and in particular the Korean model that the hon. Member for East Devon presented to us. We can discuss that and many other matters, while we all pursue our common goal of doing all that we can to protect our children on the internet.

 

14th February   

Update: Accountable to Scaremongers...

Julian Brazier explains his bill
Link Here  full story: BBFC Parliamentary Accountability...Julian Brazier BBFC Bill

Letter writing Dear Mr Brazier,

I understand that you and several other MPs are seeking tougher legislation against violent video games. As a video games enthusiast I would like to ask you a few questions on your stance on this matter if I may and also offer you my views on the matter.

  1. Do you support the government being given the power to BAN violent video games?
     
  2. Do you not believe adult video game players should have some choice over what games they play?
     
  3. Much of the hysteria over violent video games is based on knee jerk tabloid scaremongering which is eagerly exploited by certain pressure groups and politicians for their own ends. Is it really fair for legislation to be brought in restricting adults freedom of choice based not on facts but on hysteria, scaremongering and half truths?
     
  4. One newspaper reported that the government could get the power to ban violent games that it thinks is to blame for certain violent murders. I question whether this is either fair or democratic. Effectively this is saying whether or not there is evidence of a link between a real life murder and a violent video game the mere fact that politicians have blamed that particular game is enough to get it banned.

I would make the point to you that in the Manhunt /Warren Le Blanc/Stefan Pakeerah case there was no actual evidence that game was in anyway to blame for the murder. The game was in the possession of the victim and not the killer. Both Stefan's parents blamed the game for their son's murder but this was merely their opinion and not evidence.

I back legislation to stop children playing games and also viewing films which is not suitable for them. But I question whether ultra tough knee jerk measures are really fair.

Reply: Out of step with the realities of modern life

Julian Brazier MP From Julian Brazier MP

Thank you for your e-mail regarding my Private Member's Bill and its effect on the supply of computer games.

I understand your concerns on this matter - I am as concerned as you are about the creation of a "nanny-knows-best" state and have devoted the last four years (and my last Private Member's Bill) to fighting the health-and-safety culture in adventure and risk-based activities.

To answer your first question directly, no I don't think the Government should have the power to ban video games (or films), but I am in favour of the BBFC continuing to have the discretion to do so.

For it would be foolish to ignore the impact of violent and sexually violent media on people's behaviour. Violent crime - particularly violence against women - is increasing steadily in the UK. A recent study [pdf] by the universities of Glasgow and North London showed that half of young British males thought it acceptable, in one circumstance or another, to force a woman to have sex.

The links to the media are also becoming increasingly apparent. In September, for example, the Ministry of Justice published a research paper (research series 11/07) which concludes that there is clear and consistent [evidence that] exposure to pornography puts one at increased risk for ... committing sex offences... and accepting rape myths. In December the University of Columbia brought out a fascinating study into the effect of violent films on the brain, which showed that watching such films reduced the activity of the brain network responsible for suppressing aggression.

The BBFC, and its appeals committee, are getting increasingly out of step with the realities of modern life. The Bill seeks to bring Parliamentary scrutiny both to the process of selecting the principal officers of the Board and of determining changes to the guidelines used by BBFC examiners. The bill would also abolish the current appeals committee, which has consistently taken a much laxer line than even the BBFC, and replace it with a jury, drawn at random from a list of volunteers. Appeals, which currently can only be launched by the industry, could also be triggered by 50 MPs who feel a classification is too low. (In Australia anyone can appeal.)

In short the Bill will make the BBFC more accountable for the decisions they make. It does not seek to lay down the guidelines which the BBFC would make, nor does it prescribe which films should or shouldn't be shown. All it does is ensure that the Board has to defend its decisions and general direction, and opens up the ultimate appeal to a broader ranger of people.

Thank you for writing to me and allowing me the opportunity to explain my objectives.

 

10th February   

Comment: Extreme Rubbish...

Grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character
Link Here

House of Lords logo Re the Governments new Dangerous Pictures Act wording:

"(5A) An "extreme image" is an image which—
(a) falls within subsection (6), and
(b) is grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character.
(6) An image falls within this subsection if it portrays, in an explicit and realistic way, any of the following—
(a) an act which threatens a person's life,
(b) an act which results, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person's anus, breast or genitals,
(c) an act which involves sexual interference with a human corpse, or
(d) a person performing an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal (whether dead or alive), and a reasonable person looking at the image would think that any such person or animal was real."

The proposed law concerns ownership only. The "Gross offence" and "disgusting" terms are obviously not applicable, as I pointed out, you cannot offend yourself and are unlikely to be disgusted by something you choose to own. These terms are so daft they were almost certainly added so that they could be given up at a later time, to make it look as though the Government were giving concessions.

The suggestion that obscenity be part of the definition of an extreme image is a good thing for us. A test for obscenity goes to the heart of the matter; whether this material does deprave and corrupt the viewer.

Having said that, because it would be very much more difficult for the Government to get a conviction using this test for obscenity, it is unlikely they will agree to it, they have refused it before and could not give a rational reason why.

I despair at the level of thought put into this law, either they are incredibly thick or they are so arrogant they believe they can get away with any old rubbish and it doesn't have to make sense.

 

9th February   

Less Vague but Just as Nasty...

Government amend Dangerous Pictures Act
Link Here

House of Lords logo The Government have proposed amendments to the Dangerous Pictures section of the Criminal Injustice and Immigration Bill. They do not seem have added anything to water down the nastiness of the bill. They appear to be designed to tighten up the definitions to answer some of the objections from the JCHR (who scrutinise human rights issues).

Knowingly staged and consensual violence is still criminalised eg: if it is grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character and portrays in an explicit and realistic way an act which threatens a person's life or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person's anus, breast or genitals.

Illegal scenes now hinge on the definition of grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character. Obviously the person being done won't consider the material as offensive but we know how easily offended some people are these days...

Amendments:

Clause 113

LORD HUNT OF KINGS HEATH

Page 79, line 38, leave out "appears" and insert "is of such a nature that it must reasonably be assumed"
Page 80, line 1, after "Where" insert "(as found in the person's possession)"
Page 80, line 2, leave out "appears to have been so produced" and insert "is of such a nature as is mentioned in subsection (3)"
Page 80, line 9, leave out from beginning to "produced" and insert "having regard to those images as a whole, they are not of such a nature that they must reasonably be assumed to have been"
Page 80, line 14, leave out subsection (6) and insert—
"(5A) An "extreme image" is an image which—
(a) falls within subsection (6), and
(b) is grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character.
(6) An image falls within this subsection if it portrays, in an explicit and realistic way, any of the following—
(a) an act which threatens a person's life,
(b) an act which results, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person's anus, breast or genitals,
(c) an act which involves sexual interference with a human corpse, or
(d) a person performing an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal (whether dead or alive),
and a reasonable person looking at the image would think that any such person or animal was real."

Clause 114

LORD HUNT OF KINGS HEATH

Page 80, line 41, leave out "appears that the image was" and insert "is of such a nature that it must reasonably be assumed to have been"
Page 80, line 44, leave out "appears to have been extracted as" and insert "is of such a nature as is"

If these amendments are accepted then the Dangerous Pictures Bill will then read:

113 Possession of extreme pornographic images

(1) It is an offence for a person to be in possession of an extreme pornographic image.

(2) An “extreme pornographic image” is an image which is both—
(a) pornographic, and
(b) an extreme image.

(3) An image is “pornographic” if it is of such a nature that it must reasonably be assumed to have been produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal.

(4) Where (as found in the person's possession) an image forms part of a series of images, the question whether the image is of such a nature as is mentioned in subsection (3) is to be determined by reference to—
(a) the image itself, and
(b) (if the series of images is such as to be capable of providing a context for
the image) the context in which it occurs in the series of images.

(5) So, for example, where—
(a) an image forms an integral part of a narrative constituted by a series of images, and
(b) having regard to those images as a whole, they are not of such a nature that they must reasonably be assumed to have been solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal, the image may, by virtue of being part of that narrative, be found not to be pornographic, even though it might have been found to be pornographic if taken by itself.

(5A) An "extreme image" is an image which—
(a) falls within subsection (6), and
(b) is grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character.

(6) An image falls within this subsection if it portrays, in an explicit and realistic way, any of the following—
(a) an act which threatens a person's life,
(b) an act which results, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person's anus, breast or genitals,
(c) an act which involves sexual interference with a human corpse, or
(d) a person performing an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal (whether dead or alive), and a reasonable person looking at the image would think that any such person or animal was real.

(7) In this section “image” means—
(a) a moving or still image (produced by any means); or
(b) data (stored by any means) which is capable of conversion into an
image within paragraph (a).

(8) In this section references to a part of the body include references to a part surgically constructed (in particular through gender reassignment surgery).
(9) Proceedings for an offence under this section may not be instituted—
(a) in England and Wales, except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions; or
(b) in Northern Ireland, except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland.

114 Exclusion of classified films etc.

(1) Section 113 does not apply to excluded images.

(2) An “excluded image” is an image which forms part of a series of images contained in a recording of the whole or part of a classified work.

(3) But such an image is not an “excluded image” if—
(a) it is contained in a recording of an extract from a classified work, and
(b) it is of such a nature that it must reasonably be assumed to have been extracted (whether with or without other images) solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal.

(4) Where an extracted image is one of a series of images contained in the recording, the question whether the image is of such a nature as is mentioned in subsection (3)(b) is to be determined by reference to—
(a) the image itself, and
(b) (if the series of images is such as to be capable of providing a context for the image) the context in which it occurs in the series of images; and section 113(5) applies in connection with determining that question as it applies in connection with determining whether an image is pornographic.

(5) In determining for the purposes of this section whether a recording is a recording of the whole or part of a classified work, any alteration attributable to—
(a) a defect caused for technical reasons or by inadvertence on the part of any person, or
(b) the inclusion in the recording of any extraneous material (such as advertisements), is to be disregarded.

(6) Nothing in this section is to be taken as affecting any duty of a designated authority to have regard to section 113 (along with other enactments creating criminal offences) in determining whether a video work is suitable for a classification certificate to be issued in respect of it.

(7) In this section—
“classified work” means (subject to subsection (8)) a video work in respect of which a classification certificate has been issued by a designated authority (whether before or after the commencement of this section);
“classification certificate” and “video work” have the same meanings as in the Video Recordings Act 1984 (c. 39);
“designated authority” means an authority which has been designated by the Secretary of State under section 4 of that Act;
“extract” includes an extract consisting of a single image;
“image” and “pornographic” have the same meanings as in section 113;
“recording” means any disc, tape or other device capable of storing data electronically and from which images may be produced (by any means).

(8) Section 22(3) of the Video Recordings Act 1984 (effect of alterations) applies for the purposes of this section as it applies for the purposes of that Act.

 

7th February   

Internet Standards Authority...

MP suggests more internet censorship
Link Here  full story: Internet Standards Authority...Hugo Swire MP proposed internet censorship

Hugo Swire MP
going nowhere fast

Hugo Swire, Conservative MP for East Devon, initiated an adjournment debate last night in parliament entitled Internet (Child Protection)

He went on to suggest:

We need to set up a new co-regulatory structure, an internet standards authority, to fight illegal and harmful content, promote a safer environment and raise awareness. ISPs should deliver an acceptable service for children whereby they would be able safely to access the internet while adults could access all other content through a PIN or similar device. We should ensure that internet companies that advertise carry responsibility messages, such as those we see on alcohol advertising and cigarette packages. A hotline number in the UK is operated by the excellent Internet Watch Foundation, and it should be displayed. We need to empower parents, teachers and children in respect of their responsibilities and the risks of going online. Finally, any internet-ready platform should be sold with a robust, self-updating, tamper-proof internet filter pre-installed.

Those proposals are not about censorship [... BUT ...] they are about creating the regulatory environment to enable our children to surf safely, so that they can expand the horizons of their knowledge. Of course, I do not believe we can remove all risk to children, but we can make this country a safer place in what, at times, seems to be an increasingly dangerous world for our children.

...Read the full transcript from Parliament

 

5th February   

Real Progress...

Lords propose more helpful amendments to Dangerous Pictures law
Link Here

House of Lords logo Proposed amendment to Clause 113

BARONESS MILLER OF CHILTHORNE DOMER
LORD WALLACE OF TANKERNESS

123* Page 79, line 38, leave out "appears to have" and insert "has"
124* Page 80, line 2, leave out "appears to have" and insert "has"
125* Page 80, line 9, leave out "it appears that"
126* Page 80, line 15, leave out from "which" to end and insert "results in the death of, or life-threatening injury to, a person"
127* Page 80, line 16, leave out from "in" to end
128* Page 80, line 18, leave out "or appears to involve"
129* Page 80, line 20, leave out "or appearing to perform"
130* Page 80, line 22, leave out "or appears to be"

Proposed amendment to Clause 114

BARONESS MILLER OF CHILTHORNE DOMER
LORD WALLACE OF TANKERNESS

131* Page 80, line 41, leave out "it appears that"
132* Page 80, line 44, leave out "appears to have" and insert "has"

This amendment means that staged violence will not be caught out by the prohibition on possession of extreme porn.

 

1st February   

Liberty Defence...

Lords propose helpful amendment to Dangerous Pictures law
Link Here

House of Lords logo Proposed amendment to Clause 115

LORD WALLACE OF TANKERNESS
BARONESS MILLER OF CHILTHORNE DOMER

Page 81, line 35, leave out "prove" and insert "show"
Page 81, line 44, at end insert—

"(d) that they reasonably believe that no person portrayed in the image was made to act against their will.

(2A) For the purposes of this section whether a belief is reasonable is to be determined having regard to all the circumstances."

This is basically the Liberty defence; that the defendant could reasonably have believed that the images were not real" and asks for the images to be viewed in context, that is if a complete series which includes shots of the performers after the scene happy and unharmed or possibly even any disclaimers kept with the images.

Comment: Making the Last Few Weeks Count

Thanks to dlh

This is a great step forward, although some think it still doesn't go far enough. And of course these Lords, or indeed any other peers, can lay more amendments.

Now is the time to make your opposition to proposals to criminalise the possession of dirty pictures heard:

  • Write to your MP -- referring him/her to the proposed amendments -- asking for help in getting these or other changes backed by the Lords and later in the Commons.
  • Even better, attend your MPs surgery to voice your views. The earlier you get to their office the better chance you have of getting a hearing.
  • Write to these Lords, the party whips, or other peers outlining your opposition to plans to criminalise your harmless viewing material. Write to local/national newspapers/radio stations/TV channels outlining your views. (N.B. there is lots of useful supporting material at www.backlash-uk.org.uk , on the FAC blog and on www.melonfarmers.co.uk ).
  • Air your thoughts on as many blogs, sites, chat rooms as you can. Ask people to do any/all of the above.

There are now only a few weeks left to challenge these plans. Make them count.

 

30th January   

Extreme Disquiet...

Lords are unhappy about wording of Dangerous Pictures law
Link Here

House of Lords logo The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath) : My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is a wide-ranging Bill: it traverses youth justice, sentencing, anti-social behaviour, the risk management of violent and sex offenders, the law on self-defence and the possession of extreme pornographic images, to name but a few of its provisions.

...In tackling the possession of extreme pornographic images, the Bill seeks to bring our controls on such violent and explicit material into the internet age. We can no longer control the circulation of this pernicious and potentially harmful material through legislation dealing with the traditional forms of publication and distribution. We have to look to an offence of possession. We want to ensure that the new offence hits the right target. In the other place, concerns were expressed that the offence went too wide. We understand that concern. I aim to bring forward amendments in Committee that will clarify the drafting of the offence and, I hope, put beyond doubt that the type of imagery found in popular mainstream films will not be covered by the offence.

I have no doubt that the new offences of inciting homophobic hatred will attract much debate in this House, and rightly so. In constructing the offences we have been very conscious of the need to balance the protection of the gay and lesbian community from material inciting hatred with the right to freedom of expression. We believe that we have struck the right balance in the Bill. The new offence will apply only to threatening words and behaviour intended to stir up hatred on grounds of sexual orientation. Given that high threshold, and all the other safeguards, including the consent of the Attorney-General to any prosecution, we do not consider that a saving is needed to protect expressions of criticism or antipathy towards homosexual practices. If such expressions are not threatening and not intended to incite hatred, they will not be covered by the offence. If they are, then they should not be excluded. This was debated in the other place, and the other place rejected such a saving by a considerable margin.

Lord Thomas of Gresford:

...As for extreme pornography, Clause 113 is utterly vague, and Clause 115 proposes an unacceptable reverse burden of proof. We welcome what the Minister said a moment ago, when he appeared to recognise that.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer :

...The two issues I shall concentrate on are set out in Part 7—the first is extreme pornography. It is a difficult issue to debate at all, but one to which I hope we shall bring some cool and objective thinking. Again, it did not really receive the sort of examination in the other place that it should have had. We have had an interesting briefing from a large number of academics such as lecturers in media studies and so on who have joined together on this issue. The first point they make bears repeating at this stage: the Government have been using a rapid evidence assessment to back up their claims that legislation is necessary in this area. They say that the REA document is based on largely discredited research emanating from particular psychology and sociology traditions once favoured in America and that the supporting evidence has no real connection to the British case. That is the sort of issue that we need to examine in Committee.

Legislation needs to be objective and evidence-based, not subjective. Personally, I do not like pornography and believe it to be essentially degrading to the spirit, and violent pornography is even worse. Indeed, anything depicting extreme violence is, I think, dangerous as regards the well-being of society. However, I also do not believe in censorship unless it is absolutely essential to protect people, and my personal view is not what I want the House to focus on. We need to concentrate on the fact that this sloppy clause is dangerous.

On 6 December last the Minister said that the Government believe that the individual pornography user will have no difficulty in recognising pornography. That is not an objective or evidence-based approach. Surely it cannot be for the possible perpetrator of a crime to judge whether he actually is committing a crime. A great deal more thought needs to go into exactly how these clauses have been drafted, and I recognise that the Minister has suggested that the Government will bring forward something which I hope will be more evidence-based. Further, I am extremely glad that we will have the benefit of the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights before us.

The Earl of Onslow :

...I now turn with gentle delicacy to extreme porn. What is it? Is it Juvenal’s ninth satire? I have unfortunately lost my Latin copy of it; otherwise, I would have quoted it to your Lordships. However, I certainly would not dream of translating it. Luckily, we are of a much less classical generation so I hope that most of your Lordships would not have understood it. I once quoted it on the wireless—on a Radio 3 programme about pornography rock with the encouragement of the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and a minor payment. This little sideline concerns what is meant by extreme porn. “Extreme” is an extremely subjective word. The law must not have subjective judgments in it; it makes things too difficult, if not impossible, and it makes judgment on facts difficult.

We wrote to the Minister, asking for a definition that was sufficiently precise and foreseeable to pass Article 8, relating to respect for privacy, and Article 10, relating to freedom of expression, and asked whether the new offence was necessary in a free society. We are concerned at the vagueness of the offence. We question whether Clause 113 is precise or foreseeable enough to meet the Convention requirements. The offence requires the image to be extreme. That is an extremely subjective judgment in itself. The Explanatory Notes state that the new offence was made to protect individuals from participating in degrading staged activities or bestiality, to cut supply and to prevent others from accidentally coming across such material. We question whether the behaviour criminalised in Clause 113(6)(a) and (b) should be so if carried out by adults in private.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath :

...I turn to the subject of extreme pornography. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and a number of other noble Lords expressed some concerns, which I well understand, about the definitions and how they might be applied. The reasons for bringing this matter before your Lordships’ House are well taken: some very disturbing cases, with disturbing impacts, have arisen from the availability of extreme pornography. Equally, I accept that we have to be very careful about the definition; we do not want it to be wider than we intend. I said in my opening speech that we will bring forward amendments—in Committee, I hope—to make that absolutely clear.

...

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

 

29th January   

Smoke Screening...

MP proposes mandatory age verification for internet sales
Link Here

Over 65 Only An MP is calling for a change in the law to force online retailers to introduce tougher age verification to prevent children being able to buy alcohol, cigarettes or pornography on the internet.

The Ten Minute Rule Bill proposed by Labour MP for Luton South, Margaret Moran, seeks to make it a statutory requirement for retailers to verify the ages of consumers who attempt to purchase age-restricted goods such as alcohol, cigarettes, pornography, or try to gamble online. She wants to see any retailer who fails to do this face a hefty fine or even imprisonment.

In a statement, Moran said: My Bill aims to ensure online retailers take their responsibilities more seriously. Children can now get hold of some very disturbing items, things they would never be able to buy if they walked into a shop. It has to stop.

The Bill is in response to a reliance by retailers on consumers declaring they are above the legal age to buy restricted goods. Essentially this is an honour system which goes no further to check shoppers are the age they say they are.

Moran said: It is clear that currently there are inadequate checks put in place by a large number of online retailers and if they are going to continue to drag their heels over this issue then it is up to Parliament to ensure our children are better protected.

 

29th January   

'Appears' to be Human Rights Abuse...

So how do we know if we have dangerous pictures?
Link Here

Human Rights comes to life The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) is tasked with checking legislation against Human Rights requirements

The Chair, Andrew Dismore, MP wrote to David Hanson at the Ministry of Injustice to ask questions about the Criminal Injustice and Immigration Bill.

Here are the questions attaining to Dangerous Pictures:

Extreme Pornography

The Committee is considering three compatibility issues which in its view arise from the Bill’s creation of a new offence of possession of extreme pornographic images.11 firstly, whether the definition of the new offence is sufficiently precise and foreseeable to satisfy the requirement that interferences with the right to respect for private life in Article 8 and the right to freedom of expression in Article 10 ECHR be “in accordance with the law”; second, whether the offence is necessary in a democratic society and proportionate so as to be compatible with those rights; and third, whether the offender should be subject to registration requirements.

Whether definition of new offence is sufficiently precise

The Committee is considering whether the definition of the new offence is sufficiently precise and foreseeable to meet the test of “prescribed by law”. The offence requires the pornographic image in the individual’s possession to be “extreme”. An assessment of whether an image is or is not “extreme” is inherently subjective. This means that individuals seeking to regulate their conduct in accordance with the criminal law cannot be certain that they will not be committing a criminal offence by having certain images in their possession.

Q9. Please provide a more detailed explanation of how an individual user of pornography is able to know whether or not his or her possession of a particular image would constitute a criminal offence.

Whether the new offence is necessary in a democratic society and proportionate

The Committee is considering whether the new offence has been shown to be necessary in a democratic society and strikes a fair balance between the rights of the individual and the needs of the community. According to its consultation, the Government suggests that the new offence is necessary to (1) break the supply/demand cycle as the growth in the internet means that supply can no longer be regulated; (2) protect participants involved in the making of the images, who may be victims of criminal offences; and (3) protect children from exposure to such materials. The Committee is considering whether the two proposed offences in clauses 64(6)(a) and (b) can be justified, so long as the participants consent and there is no risk of physical harm.12 The Government accepts that there is no proof that the use of such images causes or induces violence.

Q10. Please provide, in light of the above, the weighty reasons required to justify prosecuting people for viewing these images privately.

Sex Offender registration

An individual convicted under Clause 64 who is 18 years or over at the time of the offence and receives a sentence of at least two years imprisonment, will be subject to the registration requirements under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.13 Registration requirements interfere with an individual’s right to respect for private life (Article 8 ECHR) and must therefore be shown to be necessary and proportionate.

Q11. Why are registration requirements considered to be justified for the offences in Clause 64(6)(a) and (b) or for any consensual activity not leading to physical harm?

David Hanson Replied:

Q9. Please provide a more detailed explanation of how an individual user of pornography is able to know whether or not his or her possession of a particular image would constitute a criminal offence.

26. The offence covers material which meets three thresholds: it must be pornographic, it must contain an extreme image and it must be real or appear to be real to the viewer, in other words it must be convincing.

2T. An image is "pornographic" if it appears to have been produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal. The Government believes that the individual pornography user will have no difficulty in recognising pornography.

28. An "extreme image" is an image of:

  • "(a) an act which threatens or appears to threaten a person's life". We consider that these acts, given the pornographic context, will be easily recognisable since extreme pornographic scenarios frequently contain scenes of throttling, asphyxiation, hanging or threats with a knife or other weapon
  • "(b) an act which results in or appears to result (or be likely to result) in serious injury to a person's anus, breasts or genitals". The focus of this paragraph is on the act which does or may cause serious injury. No medical knowledge is required to understand what a 'serious' injury ¡s likely to be. 'Serious' will have its normal meaning. ln the pornographic context, the infliction of injury to these parts of the body will be recognisable. The insertion of a sharp object into the vagina or anus, is an example of an act which would be caught
  • "(c) an act which involves or appears to involve sexual interference with a human corpse". The Government considers that this material would be easily recognisable
  • "(d) a person performing or appearing to perform an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal." The Government believes that this will also be easily recognisable.

29. The Government is aware of concerns which have been articulated during the oral evidence sessions on the Bill that the clause as drafted may not be sufficiently precise in limiting the scope of the offence to material which is extreme and explicit. We are considering how the drafting may be clarified.

Q10. Please provide, in the light of the above, the weighty reasons required to justify prosecuting people for viewing these images privately.

30. The focus of this offence is on the images themselves and the effect which they may have on those who view them, not on any underlying criminal offence which may or may not have been committed. In the context of pornography, a convincing, consensual depiction of an activity can have the same impact on the viewer as an image of that activity actually taking place. Moreover, for the viewer, the question of consent is largely irrelevant, since they can have no reliable means of verification, unless they happen to know (or themselves to be one of the participants. Once an image has been created, it is capable of being passed beyond those who actively consented (lawfully or not) to the activities shown, and of being circulated to a much wider audience via new technologies. For those reasons, the Government considers that a focus on the lawful consent of those who participated in the creation of the image is misguided.

31. There is evidence that we have reason to be concerned about this material. The Ministry of Justice and Department of Health jointly published a research study on 28 September 200T entitled "The evidence of harm to adults relating to exposure to extreme pornographic material: a rapid evidence assessment (REA)". This research found that some people who accessed extreme pornography suffered some harmful effects. These included increased risk of developing pro-rape attitudes, beliefs and behaviours, and committing sexual offences. The research also showed that men who are predisposed to aggression, or who have a history of sexual and other aggression were more susceptible to the influence of extreme pornographic material. The REA found no formal research studies of the effects on those who participate in making extreme pornography but referred to evidence which supported the argument that participants in extreme pornographic material may be harmed in its making.

32. In addition to the evidence referred to above of the harmful effects of extreme pornography, there is also an argument that such material normalises and legitimises a culture of sexual violence. Proportionate interference is permitted under both Articles 8 and 10 not just for the purposes of preventing crime, protecting health and protecting the rights of others, but also for the protection of morals. Extreme pornographic material arguably has a negative impact on morals, and very little to justify it in other respects. As Baroness Hale of Richmond pointed out in the recent case of Belfast city Council v Miss Behavin' which concerned licences for sex shops, "My Lords, there are far more important human rights in this world than the right to sell pornographic literature and images in the backstreets of Belfast city Centre. Pornography comes well below celebrity gossip in the hierarchy of speech which deserves the protection of the law. Far too often it entails the sexual exploitation and degradation of women for the titillation of men."

33. The Government believes that it is justified in acting to control the circulation of this material for the reasons set out above.

Q11. why are registration requirement considered to be justified for the offences in clause 64(6)(a) and (b) or for any consensual activity not leading to physical harm.

34. The answer to the previous question is also relevant. The focus of this offence is on the images themselves and the effect which they may have on those who view them. For the reasons given above, our concerns about the impact of the material on the viewer remain the same, if the activities shown were convincing consensual depictions of sexual violence.

35. No one will be subject to registration requirements unless sentenced to two years' imprisonment or more. On a maximum three year sentence, this is a high threshold which is intended to target those about whom the courts have particular concerns either because of the nature and extent of their collection of extreme pornography, their frequency of offending or for some other reason.

36. There is some evidence of harm to some people who access extreme pornography (see above) and those who are already predisposed to aggression are most at risk. In this circumstance, and in respect of only the most serious offenders, we believe that notification requirements are justified.

 

28th January   

Update: Debased Sunday Times Opinion...

Video Nasties return to the gutter press
Link Here  full story: BBFC Parliamentary Accountability...Julian Brazier BBFC Bill

SS Experiment Love Camp DVD There have been many changes in our censorship laws over the years that are to be welcomed. Allowing directors’ greater freedom, whether with sexual imagery and language, has hardly been shown to have damaged society, despite some of the fierce battles fought at the time and which rumble on today. Out of this liberalism has emerged a more creative environment and a more realistic depiction of modern life. What is challenging the boundaries now is the scale and reach of pornography on the internet. Just by the sheer ease with which it can be accessed, it is beginning to enter the cultural mainstream and impinge on the lives of children. This is clearly a development that should be abhorred and stopped as far as possible, but in the end it may simply come down to parents being evermore vigilant.

Whether this has influenced the attitudes of censors remains unclear. Asked about the film SS Experiment Camp , which is on sale in the high street alongside U classified movies, the BBFC said there is nothing in this film that anybody should have any concerns about. The film depicts women being raped, electrocuted, hung upside down, having their ovaries cut out and burnt alive in incineration chambers by guards dressed in Nazi uniforms. That does sound “concerning”.

While censorship should have to make its case, there must be a sensitivity towards survivors of the death camps and their relatives. Depicting the Holocaust as a Jewish invention rightly causes vilification. Why should depicting concentration camps as movie backdrops for sexual violence suddenly be acceptable? This film was banned 20 years ago and there seems no strong argument to have it lifted. Gordon Brown will meet a delegation of MPs to discuss toughening the laws on video nasties amid worries about the influence they have on young people. These arguments may be inconclusive but Mr Brown would be wise to restrict the market in violent pornography.

Comment: We've Heard it All Before...25 Years Ago

Thanks to Julian

Time is running backwards. This is all part of Nutter Brazier's campaign, and we can expect more of this nonsense in the press in the run-up to his Bill.

And, of course, it was the Sunday Times which sparked off the video nasty furore in the first place with articles about ... SS Experiment Camp.

 

28th January   

Just Adding to Prison Overcrowding...

Compulsory rehabilitation of sex workers doesn't work (full)
Link Here

House of Lords logo Baroness Howe of Idlicote (Crossbench)

I turn briefly to the measure on prostitution. I know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, will speak on this; he has done much to raise awareness of the need for better treatment of women involved in this work. I welcome the provision that defines a brothel, but I fear that the proposals on compulsory rehabilitation, and the possibility of 72 hours' imprisonment for failure to attend this, will not make women safer. Instead, they will add pointlessly to the prison population and will not address the depth of the problems that some of these women face. I hope that we can persuade the Minister to look again at these proposals and to consider seriously their utility and practicality in terms of the use of resources. Is it intended that these measures should apply not only to those who work in prostitution, but also to those on the buying side? Surely there should be equal provision—although I would prefer that the whole of this area be taken out of the Bill.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (Liberal Democrat)

I turn now to the provisions on prostitution. Given that the Government started to create a strategy in this area with the publication of guidance in 2000 entitled Setting the Boundaries, followed by legislation with the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and a year later a consultation paper entitled Paying the Price, to which they received responses and then developed a strategy, I am shocked that the result of all that work is simply two short clauses which represent a pathetic response to a severe problem. The fact is that prostitution happens. People are willing to pay for sex and others are willing to sell it. Within that framework, whether we like it or not, it is going to take place. The responsibility of the legislation is to make prostitution as safe as possible so that it presents a small health risk to both the buyer and the seller and minimises as far as possible the physical risks for the women who operate in the trade. It is also a question of striking a balance between privacy and safety.

It is a mistake to regard all prostitutes as victims or unwilling participants, but that is the line the Bill is taking. It is a Victorian Bill because it talks a lot about rehabilitation of prostitutes. I was interested to learn that Ministers have been to Sweden, which has gone down the criminalisation route. It has criminalised the user as well as taking the further step—I know the Minister will deny this—of criminalising the seller. The Bill will criminalise those who do not fulfil their rehabilitation orders.

The Ministers could have chosen to visit New Zealand, which has gone down the decriminalisation route, and seen if that has worked better since legislation was introduced there. That is a point I will want to explore in Committee. Women who own brothels and run them well and safely should be able to do so without fear of prosecution under the trafficking laws if they are employing people who are there of their own free will. I believe that that would be safer. But I do not believe we can achieve all this in this Bill, and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that we need to remove the clauses dealing with prostitution in their entirety.

That is what I will be concentrating on. I shall also be looking carefully at exactly how the clauses on immigration in Part 12 are going to affect the children of immigrants and at all the issues raised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights on those provisions. It raises serious issues, and I look forward to debating them in Committee.

Lord Dholakia (Liberal Democrat)

The new sentence requiring convicted prostitutes to attend three meetings with a supervisor has been controversial. On the one hand, this would be a better option in many cases than the self-defeating sentence of a fine, which drives the offender straight back to the streets to earn more money to pay the fine. In some cases the new sentence could steer prostitutes towards services that will help them to sort out the drug and housing problems that are usually driving them to solicit. On the other hand, it would be unfortunate if the new sentence led to a procession of women, who have failed to turn up for meetings with supervisors because of their chaotic lifestyles, being brought back to court and jailed for failure to attend meetings.

Baroness Stern (Crossbench)

The committee supported wholeheartedly, as will all noble Lords, the need for rehabilitation of the very many vulnerable people involved in prostitution. This would be a human rights-enhancing measure. But we were very concerned that enforcement could result in 72-hour detention and might lead to imprisonment. We hope that the Minister will consider deleting this provision.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester (Labour) Link to this | Hansard source

My Lords, there are many aspects of the Bill on which I am tempted to speak, but I intend to confine myself this evening to Clauses 123, 124 and 125 in Part 7, those dealing with street offences. I start by expressing my disappointment that the Government have not taken this opportunity to carry out a comprehensive reform of the law on prostitution, which everyone who studies the subject agrees is long overdue. They are instead proceeding in what must be seen as a piecemeal way. The best government publication on the subject in recent years is Paying the Price, published in 2004, and it is worth reminding ourselves what it said about street-based prostitution. Paragraph 1.6 reads like this:

"A common pattern is for men and women to be trapped in street-based prostitution after having been coerced into it at a young age or to fund their own—and often their partner's—problematic drug use. Those involved in this way rarely benefit, apart from ensuring their drug supply. The profits of the 'trade' go straight into the pockets of drug dealers. While some may become involved 'to buy nice things'—and for some it is undoubtedly a highly lucrative business—for the 80-95% of those involved in street-based prostitution to feed a serious drug habit the reality is very different".

We have to bear in mind that the street-based sector represents only about 15 per cent of the total of perhaps 80,000 sex workers, a statistic which is either ignored or misunderstood by a number of politicians and others who comment on these matters.

In Paying the Price, serious consideration was given to the possibility that local authorities would be allowed to sanction red-light toleration zones, with sex workers licensed and regular health checks introduced, an approach followed in a number of other countries, including Australia and Holland. These are worth looking at, as is the kind of decriminalisation introduced in New Zealand. Paying the Price was a real step forward, and it was the hope that legislation to implement its proposals would not be long in coming, but unfortunately we are still waiting, because this Bill is certainly nowhere near that.

As your Lordships may be aware, I have raised some of these issues in the House on a number of occasions over the past seven years. I first did so during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, which strengthened the law on carding—placing cards advertising sexual services in phone boxes. Sections 46 and 47 of that Act had the effect of making it harder for women working in the relative safety of their own flats to advertise for clients, with the consequence that many were tempted to resume soliciting on the streets, where the risk of serious assault is many times greater. I pointed out that research carried out by the Economic and Social Research Council among indoor and street-working prostitutes in three British cities found that women working on Glasgow's streets were six times more likely to be violently attacked by clients than those working indoors in Edinburgh, and four times more likely than indoor workers in Leeds.

In a debate on sentencing initiated by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in March 2004, I described for the House what happened when I was invited by the Metropolitan Police in January of that year to join its street offences and juvenile protection unit on patrol in Brixton. The officers were conducting a four-week intensive campaign on street soliciting. The evening started with a briefing at a police station in Camberwell, two walls of which were covered with photographs of prostitutes known to work in the area. I was told that it was certain that a number of those women would be arrested for soliciting during the night—and that was exactly how it turned out.

One of them was a 23 year-old woman known as Judy. As a known prostitute, she was arrested walking down a side street in a red-light district of Brixton. She had a string of convictions for soliciting and a reputation for never appearing in court unless taken straight there from a police cell. She worked in the sex industry to fund her cocaine habit. I found it particularly disturbing that no one appeared to make any attempt to get her off drugs. Instead, she was in a cycle of soliciting, arrest, a court appearance, a fine, and then more soliciting to pay the fine and buy the drugs. That evening made a profound impression on me, and since then I have tried to judge the various proposals that have emanated from the Government and other well meaning bodies for dealing with street prostitution on whether they are likely to be of any real value or help to women like Judy.

I have read with great care the Hansard reports of proceedings in another place on this Bill, and particularly the debates in Committee on the clauses dealing with street offences. On Second Reading on 8 October, John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington, articulated the concerns of the Safety First Coalition, which is a remarkable group of individuals and organisations including religious groups such as Zacchaeus 2000, as well as the Royal College of Nursing, the National Association of Probation Officers and the English Collective of Prostitutes. Their stance is supported by medical consultants and the British Psychological Society, using practitioner knowledge and evidence from the top medical and legal journals.

The coalition came together following the murders of the five young women in Ipswich, to put forward the point of view that everyone deserves to be safe, regardless of gender, race, occupation or lifestyle. This received widespread support from the people of Ipswich, who rather than blaming such women themselves believe that everything possible should be done to ensure their safety in future. The coalition organised a well attended meeting in Committee Room 10 last Wednesday. A number of Members of your Lordships' House were there to hear unanimous criticism of the clause, which, to quote from its briefing,

"introduces compulsory rehabilitation under threat of imprisonment".

On the surface, Clause 124 may appear a well meaning effort to get people out of the sex industry. I respect my noble friend Lord Hunt for putting forward that point of view in his opening speech. Indeed, it is linked to a proposal in Clause 123 to do away with the term "common prostitute", which dates back to the Vagrancy Act 1824. That is long overdue. Yet what chance is there that women such as Judy, to whom I referred a moment ago, would ever turn up for these rehabilitation sessions? The answer is almost none at all. Have we forgotten what we know about addiction? Compulsion does not work, and the person must be willing and supported in order to be able to change her life.

The Safety First Coalition believes that a failure to appear would lead to a summons back to court, possible imprisonment for 72 hours and that,

"women could end up on a treadmill of broken supervision meetings, court orders and imprisonment".

This is clearly a view with which the Joint Committee on Human Rights concurs, in its paragraph 155 on page 117, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, pointed out in her brilliant speech a little earlier. In other words, this measure could increase the criminalisation of consensual sex with the effect that, instead of seeking help to get out of the sex industry or deal with a drug dependency, it would be driven further underground. Driving prostitution underground is guaranteed to increase sex workers' vulnerability to rape and other violence, as violent men would know that the risk of arrest deters sex workers from reporting assaults.

The truth is that recent piecemeal legislative changes mean that we now have some of the most punitive laws on prostitution anywhere in the world, particularly given the increasing numbers of anti-social behaviour orders being directed at women working in the sex industry who then end up in prison for breach of the orders. The female prison population has doubled in the past 10 years and, while we do not know exactly how many women are there for offences relating to prostitution—via the breach of an ASBO or the non-payment of a fine which would have originated from soliciting—the number seems substantial. This is a grave situation, especially when we consider that many are young and in need of support, and may be mothers who are then separated from their children. At the same time, we are doing little to "design out" the vulnerability of sex workers, which criminologists show we can, or to tackle the influence of pimps on those women.

I also regret that this Bill does little to address the fundamental reasons why young women—some young men, too—go into prostitution in the first place. We undoubtedly need extra resources to address practical needs such as housing, debt, a viable income and drug addiction treatment.

I would like to be able to say that these clauses were extensively debated in the other place, before they came up to us here. Sadly, that was not the case, as the noble Lord, Lord Henley, pointed out in his opening speech. The longest debate in the other place was whether Britain should adopt the practice adopted in Sweden of criminalising the purchase of sexual services but not their sale. I do not intend to take up the House's time tonight by debating what has been happening in Sweden, but I counsel my noble friend that there are as many or more powerful arguments against doing what Sweden has attempted as there are for trying it. I for one will certainly oppose such a proposition if it comes before us during the later stages of this Bill.

Finally, bearing in mind that we are promised a substantive piece of legislation reforming the law on prostitution in the next Session—David Hanson, the Prisons Minister, is on record as saying this—it would be better to drop Clauses 123 to 125 and Schedule 25 from this Bill now. I hope that there will be substantial support for this point of view in all parts of the House, and I intend to table amendments in Committee which will do that.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice)

We have had a very interesting, almost cameo, debate about prostitution. I certainly accept the comments of my noble friend Lord Faulkner and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that we need to see this in the round, as part of a comprehensive approach. Noble Lords have rather made fun of my ministerial colleague's recent visit to Sweden, but it should be seen as a positive, fact-finding tour and a contribution to this wider debate. It feeds into a six-month review in tackling the demand for prostitution. My noble friend Lord Faulkner accepted that the intent of the clauses in the Bill is positive. It deals with the revolving-door problem of people being consistently caught by the police, brought before the courts and then reoffending. That is the aim of the clause; it aims to help people to address the causes of offending. The consensus I sensed from the comments of noble Lords is that we need to have programmes that are designed to help people get out of the position that they are in.

 

27th January   

Update: Experimental Nonsense...

Ludicrous MPs resurrect moral panic long past its sell by date
Link Here  full story: BBFC Parliamentary Accountability...Julian Brazier BBFC Bill

SS Experiment Love Camp DVD Films with graphic violence, including one [unrealistically] simulating the rape, torture and incineration of concentration camp victims, are being freely sold on the high street, prompting demands by [nutter] MPs for a reform of the censorship laws.

SS Experiment Camp is one of a clutch of violent films banned 20 years ago by the director of public prosecutions that have been approved for general release by Britain’s film censors and are on sale in shops.

The BBFC said there was no evidence that the film causes harm to viewers, adding that there is nothing in this film that anybody should have any concerns about. The board states that sensibilities toward on-screen violence have changed since the film was banned.

However, [Julian Brazier and several nutter] MPs have questioned the censors’ judgment and their greater tolerance of films and video games containing graphic violence. They want Gordon Brown to give the public more power to appeal against the board’s decisions. The prime minister is set to meet a cross-party coalition of MPs to discuss toughening the laws on “video nasties”.

[The nutter] MPs are concerned that films previously considered so shocking that they were banned have been approved for general sale and are desensitising the public to extreme violence. They are particularly worried by the decision of censors to grant a general release certificate to SS Experiment Camp , a 1970s low-budget movie that is sold alongside family films at high-street shops and online.

Jewish groups fear such films trivialise the suffering of Holocaust victims, who in the film are forced to have sex with Nazi commandants and are boiled alive if they refuse to “collaborate”. The blonde camp commandant forces a Jewish doctor to perform sadistic experiments on women prisoners, including live ovary transplants.

Women dressed in striped prison uniforms are forced to become prostitutes, tortured, hung upside down and electrocuted. They are injected and incinerated after refusing to declare allegiance “to the supreme Fhrer”.

The film’s cover prominently displays the Nazi SS emblem and the words “Previously banned! Legally available for the first time”. Because it has an 18 certificate, it can be sold on the same shelves as U and PG certificate films.

SS Experiment Camp was approved for release by David Cooke, director of the BBFC, Sir Quentin Thomas, the president, and two vice-presidents, Janet Lewis-Jones and Lord Taylor of Warwick. Thomas is a former senior civil servant; Lewis-Jones and Taylor are lawyers. Though it went on sale in October 2006, it has only just come to the attention of MPs, who are shocked by its contents.

A spokeswoman for the BBFC said SS Experiment Camp had been given a certificate with no cuts because we have no concerns about it. Although she accepted it contained sexual violence, she said the board did not believe it was harmful to viewers. It is tasteless – but then I find most Mel Gibson films tasteless, she said. We do not believe that anyone watching this title is going to become antisemitic as a result. It is not going to create an attitude towards Jewish women that is harmful.

A private member’s bill to be introduced by Julian Brazier, the Conservative MP for Canterbury, with support from senior MPs of all parties, would make it easier to challenge the release of “video nasties”.

Brazier strongly disputed the board’s claims and said the release of SS Experiment Camp was a clear case of the BBFC failing to protect the public.

We live in a country where half of all males think forced sex is justified under some circumstances and it’s this kind of film that glamorises the torture of women, Brazier said. This film may have an 18 certificate but in practice, whatever its classification, it will rapidly find its way into the hands of under18s.

A motion by 50 MPs asking for a film’s release to be reconsidered would trigger an instant appeal, under the plans to be debated by parliament next month.

The move is backed by [nutter] Keith Vaz, the former Labour minister, who heads the powerful Commons home affairs committee.

The Holocaust Educational Trust called on the film censors to think again about their decision to release SS Experiment Camp , which was made in Italy by Sergio Garrone in 1976.

And to put the nonsense spouted by these ridiculous MPS here is a review from IMDb

The story involves a group of women who are delivered to the aforementioned SS Experiment Camp. While there they are subjected to some inexplicable experiments, which often seem to involve forced copulation with a group of Nazi studs (who it has to be said all look strangely Italian). The purpose of the experiments is to find the best stud from this Aryan select and transfer his balls onto the camp commandant who, as we discover, lost his when a Russian woman he was raping bit his off.

Now, the above synopsis may well make the film sound deeply depraved and offensive. Well, it is sleazy and in highly dubious taste but the execution of the film is so amateurish and unrealistic that it really sounds a lot worse than it actually is. The depiction of the camp is more Butlins than Belsen at times. The inmates seem relatively unconcerned for the most part and the Nazi baddies are often hilariously unconvincing. That said, there are some nasty moments, particularly the treatment meted out to the young girl at the orgy; she ends up hanging naked upside down in a shot that recalls the aforementioned distasteful cover shot. But, generally speaking, sequences that achieve such offense are uncommon here. The scenes showing the experiments, while certainly tasteless, are often more strange than anything else. The copulation in a tank of water idea being an example where it is too bizarre to take altogether seriously.

 

18th January   

Update: The Three Censorial Stooges...

Vaz petitions Brown to support Brazier's nonsense
Link Here  full story: BBFC Parliamentary Accountability...Julian Brazier BBFC Bill

Julian Brazier Nutter MP Keith Vaz, a frequent critic of violent video games, quizzed Prime Minister Gordon Brown on the issue during Prime Minister's Question Time. He was pushing for Brown's support for his censorial mate, Julian Brazier

MP Keith Vaz:

On Monday, the Prime Minister said that he was very worried about the content of video and computer games. Some of those games, such as Manhunt 2, depict scenes of torture and murder using hammers, knives and guns. They seem to make a virtue of gratuitous and graphic violence.

Will he meet a delegation of Members, including the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), who has a private Member’s Bill on the subject, to see what further steps the industry can take to show better responsibility? Does my right hon. Friend, as a parent, agree that—

Prime Minister Gordon Brown:

My right hon. Friend is right, and this is an issue that concerns all parties in the House and every parent. It is right that we look again at the classification system for those games and at what is happening on the Internet in influencing young children.

That is why the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families has set up the Byron review, in which Dr. Tanya Byron is looking at these very issues. We want children to be able to enjoy the benefits of the internet and video games, without being influenced by the pornography or violence of them.

Dr. Byron will report in March 2008 and while it would be premature for me to say what she is likely to recommend, the classification system is one of the things that she is looking at. I hope that when we get the report we can have a debate in this House. I would be happy to meet my right hon. Friend’s delegation and move forward whatever changes in the law are necessary.

 

10th January   

Update: Extreme Lack of Time...

Extreme porn nastiness continues unamended by parliament
Link Here

House of Commons The Criminal Injustice and Immigration Bill had its report stage/third reading in the Commons on 9th January.

The government timetabled it so there was no time to debate the extreme porn offences, let alone take a vote on the proposed amendments.

What happened today was a complete disgrace. A bill with well over 100 new clauses of law was debated in it's entirety in around 2 hours...

Both the Lib Dem and Tory spokespersons bemoaned the lack of debate on the extreme porn law, but it now seems like a done deal as far as the commons goes.

From Bloomberg see full article

Opposition amendments had sought to water down the bill by allowing images made of consenting adults or actors.

Everybody is opposed to violent acts that are real violent acts, but when it is simply for sexual purposes such as bondage, it shouldn't be a criminal offense,' Harry Cohen, a Lib Dem member of Parliament who wants the bill amended, said: The definition of what will be an offense is far too wide. People won't know what the threshold is.'

Couples who make home videos of themselves engaged in restricted acts may be prosecuted, according to Deborah Hyde, a spokeswoman for Backlash, a lobby group set up to campaign against the legislation. She said the rules would allow courts to jail people for three years for making violent images.

 

10th January   

Update: Trivial Pursuit...

Brazier gets to express his concerns to ELSPA
Link Here  full story: BBFC Parliamentary Accountability...Julian Brazier BBFC Bill

Julian Brazier Paul Jackson, director general of the games classifiers, ELSPA, recently met with Julian Braizer MP to discuss his Private Members Bill.

The Bill looks to enable senior appointments to the BBFC, and the classification of films and games, to come under the scrutiny of Parliament.

I was most grateful for the opportunity to meet with Mr. Brazier to explain how the classification system for games currently works and the challenges we face in this area, Jackson said.

Mr Brazier took the opportunity to express his concerns on the impact of violence in films and games on society which led to the introduction of his Bill.

Following on from this we agreed to stay in close contact and give advice and clarification to ensure the views of the industry are taken into account while the Bill is being developed and its merits debated by the House."

 

10th January   

Modernisation or Repeal?...

Nutter Vaz talks of 'modernisation' of blasphemy law
Link Here

NSS logo The Church of England gave a cautious welcome last night to the government's pledge to consult it before taking a final decision on repealing the ancient offence of blasphemy.

Downing Street's announcement that it is consulting the churches, particularly the Anglican church, before scrapping the offence came only hours before a Commons vote on the issue.

Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, said the government had faced defeat: It is a pretty arcane law. It is old and unnecessary, and it does need to be modernised. What they need to do is bring that forward as quickly as possible. [if it is unnecessary why does it need modernising?...it needs repealing. I guess nutter Vaz is eyeing the chance to extend it to all religions]

A Church of England spokesman said last night it became clear last year during the debates on the crime of incitement to racial and religious hatred that the church was open to the idea of the blasphemy law being abolished. But first there has to be adequate time to assess the impact of the new legislation, he added.

The government has said it will introduce amendments to the criminal justice bill when it reaches the Lords if the consultations with the churches prove positive. I think it is right there is a proper process and a proper consultation before there is change in legislation, said a Downing Street spokesman.

Dr Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP whose amendment to the criminal justice and immigration bill provoked the government move, welcomed the concession: As a result of the government's acceptance of the need to repeal ... Britain will no longer have an ... illiberal blasphemy offence and will be in a far better position to ensure respect for human rights in countries like Sudan, Pakistan and elsewhere.

Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society said the blasphemy law was harsher now than when one of his predecessors was jailed for the offence in 1921: In a multicultural society no one should have the right not to be offended; we should protect people, not beliefs.

Don Horrocks of the Evangelical Alliance warned repeal would signal that protecting Jesus, God and the Bible was no longer regarded as so important.

 

8th January   

Parliamentary attempt to abolish blasphemy law...

Amending the Criminal Injustice Bill
Link Here

NSS logo The Your help urgently needed

We have been working closely with our Honorary Associate Dr Evan Harris MP, who has identified an opportunity to challenge the blasphemy law in the House of Commons.

On Wednesday, 9 January, Dr Harris will table as an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. Below is a letter we have been working on with him which will appear in the Daily Telegraph signed by a large number of other Honorary Associates and prominent supporters of the NSS as well as some other worthy names from a religious and other spheres.

The letter itself makes the case forcibly:

In the light of the widespread outrage at the conviction of the British teacher for blasphemy in Sudan over the name of a teddy bear we believe it is now time to repeal our own blasphemy law.

The ancient common law of blasphemous libel purports to protect beliefs rather than people or communities. Most religious commentators are of the view that the Almighty does not need the "protection" of such a law. We are representatives of religious, secular, legal and artistic opinion in this country and share the view that the blasphemy offence serves no useful purpose. Yet it allows small partisan organisations or well-funded individuals to try to censor broadcasters like the BBC and to intimidate small theatres, the printed media and book publishers.

Far from protecting public order — for which other laws are more suited — it actually damages social cohesion. It is discriminatory in that it only covers attacks on Christianity and Church of England tenets and thus engenders an expectation among other religions that their sensibilities should be also protected by the criminal law (as with the attempt to charge Salman Rushdie) and a sense of grievance among minority religions that they do not benefit from their own version of such a law.

As the Law Commission acknowledged as far back as 1985, when they recommended repeal, it is uncertain in scope, lack of intention is no defence and yet it is unlimited in penalty. This, together with its chilling effect on free expression and its discriminatory impact, leaves it in clear breach of human rights law and in the end no one is ever likely to be convicted under it.

The Church of England no longer opposes its abolition and the Government has given no principled reason to defend its retention. We call upon MPs to support the amendment proposed by Dr Evan Harris, Frank Dobson and John Gummer (tbc) tomorrow during the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill Report stage proceedings and for the Government — which rightly criticises countries like Sudan for their blasphemy laws — to give it a fair wind."

Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, is backing the new cross-party attempt by MPs to abolish Britain's blasphemy laws. They are supported by figures including Lord Harries of Pentregarth, the former Bishop of Oxford. Other signatories to the letter include Philip Pullman, the author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, Ricky Gervais and Richard Dawkins, the Oxford academic and atheist and Nick Hytner the director of the National Theatre.

If you support the abolition of blasphemy laws, we urge you please to write immediately to your MP, preferably by email, explaining you would like them to support Dr Harris's amendment on Wednesday and add in your own words why you think this is important. You could perhaps use some of the ideas in the above letter, but please do not reproduce them all.

It is best if you can to contact your MP by email – you can find out details if you don't know them from this website: www.theyworkforyou.com/mp This allows you to write to the correct MP by putting in your postcode. Whatever method you use to contact your MP, it is essential to include your name and full address.

If for any reason you would prefer to write by letter, you can send it by fax by phoning 020 7219 3000 and asking for the MPs office and requesting a fax number. Alternatively you could write to them at House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA, but in view of the urgency we would urge you to use email or fax if possible.

The NSS has been fighting for the abolition of blasphemy for the whole of its 140 year history. We have been working with Dr Harris on this important issue for some weeks including over the seasonal break assisting with research and soliciting the support of many influential individuals. We know you will want to add your support.

Please act straight away, there is very little time.