The first legislative attempt to introduce an opt-in system for accessing adult internet content, has been introduced to the House of
Lords. Of course private members bills have little chance of becoming law unless they capture a large consensus of support including the government.
The Online Safety Private Members Bill was introduced by Baroness Elspeth Howe, who wants to require ISPs and mobile phone companies to block adult content, unless an adult user specifically asks for it.
And the bill has predictably won the backing of the Christian campaign group CARE, who claim it is important that the government look at providing a safe online environment for web savvy children.
The Private Members Bill is calling for ISPs and mobile phone operators to provide a service that allows adult customers to make decisions about what sort of content they want blocking on their home broadband or their children's mobile phones.
Howe's Bill is based on MP Claire Perry's campaign. The government said at the time that they are in favour of the proposals put forward, but would like the industry to self-regulate and bring about these changes without amending primary legislation.
Last year the industry made the pledge to bring forward self-regulatory measures, but did not go as far as endorsing the requirement to have an opt-in to access pornography through a filter at network level.
Historically, most internet content has escaped regulation. A laudable industry-wide effort in the UK resulted in the Clean Feed system that blocks illegal child abuse imagery, but there has always been a reluctance to block, or limit access to, other
forms of adult material due to the international nature of internet content.
Last month the advertising censors at the ASA banned a christian group, Healing on the Streets - Bath, from making nonsense claims about their healing services.
They censured a leaflet which stated:
NEED HEALING? GOD CAN HEAL TODAY!
Do you suffer from Back Pain, Arthritis, MS, Addiction ... Ulcers, Depression, Allergies, Fibromyalgia, Asthma, Paralysis, Crippling Disease, Phobias, Sleeping disorders or any other sickness?
We'd love to pray for your healing right now! We're Christian from churches in Bath and we pray in the name of Jesus. We believe that God loves you and can heal you from any sickness.
Now MPs from the Christians in Parliament group are challenging the ASA decision. Gary Streeter (Con), Gavin Shuker (Lab) and Tim Farron (Lib Dem), have written to Chris Smith, Chairman of the Advertising Standards Agency:
We are writing on behalf of the all-party Christians in Parliament group in Westminster and your ruling that the Healing On The Streets ministry in Bath are no longer able to claim, in their advertising, that God can heal people from medical conditions.
We write to express our concern at this decision and to enquire about the basis on which it has been made. It appears to cut across two thousand years of Christian tradition and the very clear teaching in the Bible. Many of us have seen and experienced
physical healing ourselves in our own families and churches and wonder why you have decided that this is not possible.
On what scientific research or empirical evidence have you based this decision?
You might be interested to know that I (Gary Streeter) received divine healing myself at a church meeting in 1983 on my right hand, which was in pain for many years. After prayer at that meeting, my hand was immediately free from pain and has been ever
since. What does the ASA say about that? I would be the first to accept that prayed for people do not always get healed, but sometimes they do. That is all this sincere group of Christians in Bath are claiming.
It is interesting to note that since the traumatic collapse of the footballer Fabrice Muamba the whole nation appears to be praying for a physical healing for him. I enclose some media extracts. Are they wrong also and will you seek to intervene?
We invite your detailed response to this letter and unless you can persuade us that you have reached your ruling on the basis of indisputable scientific evidence, we intend to raise this matter in Parliament.
It seems that the Lib Dems were not impressed by their MP, Tim Farron, signing the letter.
Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron has now apologised for the wording of a letter which called for a ban on adverts that claimed God could heal sick people to be overturned, but stood by his belief that prayer could help.
Following the publication of the letter Farron apologised to Liberal Democrat members, many of whom disagreed with his decision to sign the letter. In a post on the grass-roots Liberal Democrat Voice website, Farron said it was not a well-worded and that he should not have signed it
as it was written . He said:
The reference to the ASA providing indisputable evidence is silly, and the implication that people should seek faith healing at the expense of medical intervention is something that I just don't believe in
For what it's worth, I also think that the Fabrice Muamba reference is crass. So on all those fronts, I should just say sorry and not bother defending myself. I shouldn't have signed that letter as it was written, so I apologise for putting some of you
in quite a difficult position.
In a report published on 27th March 2012, Parliament's Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions says
Parliament should not introduce any new privacy statute. It concludes that in weighing the competing rights to privacy and freedom of expression, each case must be judged on its own merits. The bar for limiting freedom of expression must be set high, but
the Committee says that the courts are now striking a better balance in dealing with applications for privacy injunctions. It rejects criticism that privacy law has been judge-made , noting that it evolved from the Human Rights Act.
The Committee says the most important step towards improving protection of privacy is to provide for enhanced censorship of the media. The Press Complaints Commission lacked the power, sanctions or independence to be truly effective. Substantial changes
to press regulation are needed to ensure that it encompasses all major news publishers including, in time, major bloggers.
The reformed media censor should:
Have access to a wider range of sanctions, including the power to fine; be cost-free to complainants be able to determine the size and location of a published apology, and the date of publication play a greater role in arbitrating and mediating privacy
The body dealing with complaints should include representatives who have experience of working in the print media, but should not include any full-time employees of news publishers or individuals who have a demonstrable conflict of interest.
To make self-regulation work, all publishers must sign up to the new regulator. One possible mechanism the Committee suggests is for advertisers to agree to advertise only in publications that are members of the press regulator and subscribe to its
A standing commission comprising members of both Houses of Parliament should be established to scrutinise industry-led press reforms and to report on them to Parliament. If the industry fails to establish an independent regulator which commands public
confidence, the Government should seriously consider establishing some form of statutory oversight. This could involve giving Ofcom or another body overall statutory responsibility for press regulation, the day-to-day running of which it could then
devolve to a self-regulatory body.
The Committee says that major internet corporations should take active steps to limit the potential for breaches of court orders through use of their products and, if they fail to do so, legislation should be introduced to force them to. In addition, the
Attorney General should be more willing to bring actions for civil contempt of court in respect of injunctions being breached online.
It also concludes that parliamentarians should ensure that material subject to an injunction is only revealed in Parliament when there is good reason to do so. Gratuitous or repeated revelation of such information could lead to new parliamentary rules to
prevent it. The media must be legally protected when reporting Parliament, and so qualified privilege should apply to the reporting of all proceedings in Parliament.
Keith Vaz has been casting doubt on PEGI ratings suggesting that these require further government scrutiny
As usual Vaz has voiced his concerns via an Early Day Motion 2761 in Parliament saying:
That this House notes that:
Tiga, the trade body representing independent UK video games developers, has come out in support of targeted tax relief for the games industry;
encourages tax relief for small and medium-sized enterprises for its role in generating and safeguarding jobs, especially in these current difficult times;
remains concerned that regulation of the video games industry is lacking in comparison to other industries; is anxious that the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) classification of video games is taken as seriously as the British Board of Film
Classification by both retailers and shoppers;
wishes the public was more aware of the risks to children and young adults;
and calls on the Government to place more scrutiny on the PEGI classification system.
The only signature supporting the motion so far is sponsor Mike Hancock.
Keith Vaz has had another knock at the Top Gear Christmas Special that featured a few jokey comments about
Vaz has tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament saying:
That this House is deeply concerned by recent events which have served to undermine the excellent relationship between India and the UK;
notes that the Top Gear India Christmas Special, featuring the unhelpful comments of Jeremy Clarkson and Dow Chemicals' sponsorship of the London 2012 Olympics in particular have had a very negative reaction in India;
is concerned that Indian student applications to UK universities are falling;
is disappointed by Britain's failure to secure the fighter jet contract from India despite the efforts of successive defence ministers;
and calls on the Government to re-energise this vital, special and enduring relationship which ought to be one of the closest and most beneficial in the world.
Website should be monitored and material that promotes violent extremism should be removed. A nine-month inquiry by the Commons
home affairs select committee concluded the internet is a fertile breeding ground for terrorism and plays a part in most, if not all, cases of violent radicalisation.
ISPs should be more active in monitoring sites and the government should work with them to develop a code of practice for removing material that could lead to radicalisation, the report said.
The inquiry found that the internet played a greater role in violent radicalisation than prisons, universities or places of worship, and was now one of the few unregulated spaces where radicalisation is able to take place .
But it added that a sense of grievance was key, and direct personal contact with radicals was a significant factor . The government's counter-terrorism strategy should show the British state is not antithetical to Islam , the
committee said. Keith Vaz, its chairman, said:
More resources need to be directed to these threats and to preventing radicalisation through the internet and in private spaces. These are the fertile breeding grounds for terrorism.
The July 7 bombings in London, carried out by four men from West Yorkshire, were a powerful demonstration of the devastating and far-reaching impact of home-grown radicalisation.
We remain concerned by the growing support for non-violent extremism and more extreme and violent forms of far-right ideology.
He added that a policy of engagement, not alienation would prevent radicalisation and called for the government's counter-radicalisation strategy Prevent to be renamed Engage.
Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties and privacy group Big Brother Watch, said:
Whatever the reason for blocking online content, it should be decided in court and not by unaccountable officials.
There is a serious risk that this kind of censorship not only makes the internet less secure for law-abiding people, but drives underground the real threats and makes it harder to protect the public.
A small group of British MPs have signed up to an Early Day Motion voicing concern that Google are set to plunder user data for
advert serving purposes.
The primary sponsor is Robert Halfon and the motion reads:
That this House
is concerned at reports in the Wall Street Journal that Google may now be combining nearly all the information it has on its users, which could make it harder for them to remain anonymous;
notes that Google's new policy is planned to take effect on 1 March 2012, but that this has not been widely advertised or highlighted to Google's users and customers, who now number more than 800 million people;
and therefore concludes that Google should make efforts to consult on these changes and that the firm should be extremely careful in the months ahead not to risk the same kind of mass privacy violations that took place under its StreetView
programme, which the Australian Minister for Communications called the largest privacy breach in history across western democracies.
The motion has been signed by
Campbell, Gregory: Democratic Unionist Party Londonderry East
Campbell, Ronnie: Labour Party Blyth Valley
Caton, Martin: Labour Party Gower
Clark, Katy: Labour Party North Ayrshire and Arran
Connarty, Michael: Labour Party Linlithgow and East Falkirk
Corbyn, Jeremy; Labour Party Islington North
Halfon, Robert; Conservative Party Harlow
Hopkins, Kelvin; Labour Party Luton North
McCrea, Dr William; Democratic Unionist Party South Antrim
Meale, Alan; Labour Party Mansfield
Morris, David; Conservative Party Morecambe and Lunesdale
Osborne, Sandra; Labour Party Ayr Carrick and Cumnock
We wrote last year, many times, about the discussions being hosted by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport between rights holders and various intermediaries - which to normal people means companies like Internet Service Providers and
search engines. One of the most recent roundtables saw the group of rights holders present search engines with a paper on how they should help tackle copyright infringement.
After two Freedom of Information requests, we have received the proposals [pdf]
. Here's the summary of what the rights holders were asking for:
Assign lower rankings to sites that repeatedly make available unlicensed content in breach of copyright.
Prioritise websites that obtain certification as a licensed site under a recognised scheme
Stop indexing websites that are subject to court orders while establishing suitable procedures to de-index substantially infringing sites
Continue to improve the operation of the notice and takedown system and ensure that search engines do not encourage consumers towards illegal sites via suggested searches; related searches and suggested sites
Ensure that they do not support illegal sites by advertising them or placing advertising on them, or profit from infringement by selling key words associated with piracy or selling mobile applications which facilitate infringement.
The minutes from the meeting suggest that the search engines were not impressed, and promised to write their own proposals to be discussed at a future meeting.
Google was dragged over the coals by a British parliamentary committee, as the technology company's
approach to removing illegal content from its search results again came under scrutiny.
Several members of the joint committee on privacy and injunctions, chaired by John Whittingdale MP, repeatedly attacked Google's representatives as they set out how the search engine seeks to balance legal challenges with freedom of expression.
Ben Bradshaw, Nadim Zahawi, and Lord Mawhinney, all criticised Google for what they saw as its failure to help victims of invasion of privacy, by removing all links to content which a judge has ruled to be illegal in the UK.
MP Andrea Leadsom has long been campaigning that kids are shown sex education material that is too mature for them. She is suggesting that BBFC should rate such material prior to its use in schools etc. She is probably onto a loser though, as the
BBFC would surely give a well considered rating, with no room whatsoever for any moral/religious/decency angle that Leadsom may be hoping for. It is hard to imagine that the BBFC would be far out of line with the education experts that are
currently approving the material for school use anyway.
Nevertheless Leadsom has had a meeting with the BBFC to discuss the possibility of the body rating school sex education material.
The BBFC were reported to have expressed surprise that the BBC do not have their sex education material rated when they voluntarily have programmes such as The Blue Planet rated, despite there being no sensitive or controversial content and
no requirement to have it rated as it is a documentary.
It seems bizarre that when some parents are so deeply concerned at what they consider to be sensitive material being shown to their children, the BBC and Channel 4 have chosen not to have their SRE material rated by an independent agency.
India has condemned a comment by US comedian Jay Leno on the holiest Sikh shrine, the Golden Temple of
Amritsar. A Leno skit showed the temple as the summer home of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Romney has faced taxation questions over his huge wealth and many Sikhs are angry the temple has been depicted as a place for the rich.
The Sikh community has launched an online petition and an Indian minister called the comments objectionable . Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi told reporters:
It is quite unfortunate and quite objectionable that such a comment has been made after showing the Golden Temple.
The Golden Temple is the Sikh community's most sacred place... The American government should also look at this kind of thing.
Freedom does not mean hurting the sentiments of others... This is not acceptable to us and we take a very strong objection for such a display.
Ravi said the Indian embassy would take up the matter with the US state department, the Press Trust of India reported.
Just when it seemed that the world was ready to move on from a poorly received Tonight Show joke that supposedly offended Sikhs a man has filed a suit against Jay Leno, the Tonight Show host, for what he says are racist remarks.
The BBC News reports that Randeep Dhillon, an Indian-American, has filed a lawsuit against Leno in Los Angeles County Superior Court, saying that the routine hurt the sentiments of all Sikh people in addition to the plaintiff. The lawsuit,
which seeks unspecified damages, says the joke clearly exposes plaintiff, other Sikhs and their religion to hatred, contempt, ridicule and obloquy because it falsely portrays the holiest place in the Sikh religion as a vacation resort owned by
Oh dear, even the Houses of Parliament have got involved in this most tenuous of whinges. An MP Virendra Sharma has written an
Early Day Motion that has yet to pick up much interest:
That this House notes with concern the sketch on the NBC Jay Leno Show where the most sacred Sikh shrine, the Golden Temple, was disrespected by Jay Leno when it was referred to as GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's summer home;
expresses concern and regret that this depiction of the Golden Temple as a home of the rich shows a complete misunderstanding of the Sikh faith and is derogatory to Sikhs across the world; believes that these comments are not acceptable to all
those who believe in respect for all religions;
calls on Jay Leno and NBC to apologise to all Sikhs for this disrespectful depiction of the Golden Temple;
and further calls on the Government to make representations to the US government that while recognising principles of freedom of speech there should be more understanding and respect shown to the Sikh faith.
A private member's bill, introduced by Liberal Democrat Don Foster, will lift some of the state control and restrictions
imposed on gigs by the 2003 Licensing Act.
The changes will mean that a licence will no longer be required for unamplified live music taking place between 08:00 and 23:00, and for amplified live music taking place between the same times before audiences of no more than 200.
The bill passed unopposed and will have to go back to the House Of Lords on the 10th of February before becoming law.
The MP from Bath was steering the bill through the House Of Commons on behalf of his Lib Dem colleague, Lord Clement Jones. The success is a relatively rare example of a House of Lords private member's bill making it into law.
It was said the Licensing Act 2003 was going to lead to an explosion of live music but, in the event, in small venues it was drastically cut.
We saw village halls, school halls, pubs and clubs reducing the the amount of live music, not increasing it.
Hopefully the bill, when it comes into law, will reverse that.
Separate to the private member's bill, the government is conducting its own review of the Licensing Act.
Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): I was shocked to discover that mainstream terrestrial television carries adverts for online bingo at 5 o'clock in the afternoon and that 31 hours and 55 minutes each week is dedicated to live casino betting and
gaming, which has been classified as teleshopping since 2009. At a time when there is £ 1.45 trillion of personal debt in this country and when we are encouraging people to be moderate in their expectations and
behaviour, will the Prime Minister please protect consumers, children and the vulnerable from this kind of activity by asking for a review by Ofcom---
The Prime Minister : The hon. Lady raises an important issue about gambling advertisement on television. I am all in favour of deregulation and trying to allow businesses to get on and succeed. Gambling programmes and betting advertising
were not permitted until the last Government allowed them in 2007 and they are strictly regulated by Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority. It is not just a question of regulation, as it is also a question of responsibility by the
companies concerned. Anyone who enjoys watching a football match will see quite aggressive advertisements on the television, and I think companies have to ask themselves whether they are behaving responsibly when they do that.
Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): On the subject of gambling, Hackney has 90 bookies---three times the national average. Will the Prime Minister listen to the debate that took place yesterday and take action this
Friday and instruct his Ministers to support the private Member's Bill that will be before the House and will give local authorities more planning powers over bookies?
The Prime Minister : I will certainly look at the debate the hon. Lady mentions and the ideas expressed in it. We are all for localism and giving local authorities greater powers in these sorts of regards. I will look at the suggestion she
That this House is deeply concerned by recent research which suggests that frequently using the internet or videogames can have a physical effect on the brain, similar to that of drugs or alcohol; notes that both neuronal connections between brain
areas and brain functions including emotions, decision-making and self-control are affected; calls for further research to be conducted into these serious findings; and further calls for the NHS to provide effective support to those who suffer
from internet or gaming addictions.
John Mann, the Labour MP for Bassetlaw has introduced a private members bill to criminalise people for paying for sex from
adults aged 18 to 20. It is titled Sexual Offences (Amendment).
It was introduced to the House of Commons on 18th January 2012:
John Mann: I beg to move:
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to create an offence of paying for sexual services of a person under the age of 21 years; and for connected purposes.
In talking about this subject, I shall turn directly to the issue of drugs, on which I have frequently spoken before in the House. It is a key issue in respect of the problem the Bill addresses, and I think the Bill will have a positive impact.
Legislation has many purposes, one of which is to change people's behaviour. Many previous Governments have passed far too much criminal justice legislation that attempts to send messages and give signals to society. This Bill does not attempt to
do that; rather, it attempts to change behaviour, which is a far more effective strategy.
There are three main ways in which teenagers, both boys and girls, get drawn into prostitution; one of them is trafficking. The Bill does not deal with that topic in detail, but it has been well aired in this House in recent times. As a result,
there has been a flurry of legislation, but it needs to be used far more effectively---both the Government and the police must deliver.
This Bill's measures would not have a major impact on trafficking, and they should not be considered as an answer to that problem. Instead, they should be seen merely as a minor assist. Trafficking is, however, one way in which teenagers get
cajoled into prostitution.
Abuse and drugs are far more significant factors, however, especially with younger teenagers, and the Bill will make a greater impact in dealing with them. Those two factors---sometimes in combination---tend to lead to the dysfunctional behaviour
of 16, 17 and 18-year-olds entering the world of prostitution. Sometimes that happens through coercion and sometimes it happens through desperation, although an element of both is often involved.
I am not here to make a moral speech about prostitution.. .[BUT] ... There is an important debate to be held on the rights and wrongs of prostitution and the laws that should have an impact on it, by my Bill does not deal with that.
My Bill does one thing: it raises the threshold for the illegality of paying for sex. Of course there is a threshold, which is currently 16. Where someone is under 16, the huge consequences of the criminal law and imprisonment are involved because
of the age of consent. But the moment the victim becomes older than 16 there are no punitive powers to deal with the person who is paying. I wish to see this Bill adopted by the Government at some stage solely and simply to raise that threshold,
because by raising the threshold one raises the threshold. That may sound like a truism, but this approach will change the behaviour of those choosing to pay. The behavioural implication is there for those worried about breaching the criminal law
and risking 14 years in prison because someone could be a minor of 15 and a half years old. On that borderline, threshold behaviour changes, so I would like Parliament to change that threshold to 21. In essence, that will take all the teenage
years out of the real threshold and will change the behaviour of people who are paying. I am not making moral judgments about what people do as adults.
My Bill seeks solely and simply to raise that threshold. I think that raising the threshold will have a huge impact because the age group involved---older teenagers---must be given the space in which to turn around their lives. Our current
legislative framework makes them the victims as, in reality, the powers available to the police, even though they are often wisely and deliberately not used, are to arrest and criminalise young people, which worsens their life chances and their
chances of turning around the situation.
Explicitly changing the threshold, as well as changing the behaviour of those who are paying, will create space to allow the various agencies to work and turn around the situation for those 16, 17, 18 and 19-year-olds. That situation can then be
transformed, particularly for those who have a drug dependency or who have suffered abuse. Such input, as they develop into adults, will make a defining difference in many cases. We have all seen the kinds of people who are the victims in our
constituencies; we all know that they can be anyone and that they can be concentrated in areas where there are particular problems. The correlation to major trauma, however, and to abuse and the provision of the support and ability to impact on
those young kids---that is what those boys and girls are---are wholly missing from the process.
I propose this Bill as a small contribution that, for some of them, would have a significant impact. It would raise the threshold for those who choose to pay and remove a reasonable number of those teenagers from the industry, creating space so
the agencies who wish to work with them can do so positively and allow them to turn around their lives.
Speaker: Question put and agreed to.
Ordered, That John Mann, Fiona Mactaggart, Natascha Engel, Mrs Louise Ellman, Gavin Shuker and Siobhain McDonagh present the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 30 March and to be printed (Bill 272).