Melon Farmers Original Version

UK Parliament Watch

2008: April-June

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8th May   

Serious Injury to a Political Career...

Bye bye to some departing ex-MPs
Link Here

  Vera Baird proved a little
rusty on local issues

The election results saw a fair few MPs depart who were associated with legislation of particular despite to Melon Farmers.

Jacqui Smith was Home Secretary seeing through several nasty laws. She was humiliated when seeking re-election in Redditch. More for being an icon of the expenses scandal, than for her disservices to freedom and the enjoyment of life. No doubt the dangers of porn will be uppermost in her mind whenever she reminisces over her failed political career.

In fact it is a common theme amongst the melon farming related departees, that their departure is little to do with their illiberal laws, but more to do with more personal issues. Perhaps Melon Farmers can take heart, that although they seem to get away with treating people like shit with nasty laws, their bad attitude sometimes catches up with them in other ways.

Another Home Secretary with a thuggish attitude to peoples rights was Charles Clarke, who also received the order of the boot. He seems to have wound up people on his own side in his disaster prone term as Home Secretary.

Vera Baird was perhaps the highlight of the departure list. She took a particular interest in issues where enjoyment of life is something to be banned particularly for men. She was always rumoured as being gifted with the legal talent to turn mean minded thoughts into carefully open ended nasty legislation. Perhaps she should have spent a little more time looking after more immediate basic needs in Redcar, where she was well stonked.

The two back bench agitators for the Dangerous Pictures Act, Martin Salter and David Lepper both stepped down at the election. But they can hardly have been pleased at their legacy. Salter was never a great hit as a local MP and Labour got stuffed in Reading West. Lepper's Brighton Pavilion seat fell notably to the Green Party. (Actually Lepper was reasonably well regarded in Brighton).

One voice that will be missed in parliament though is Evan Harris. He spoke out against the dangerous pictures laws and helped stick the knife into blasphemy laws. He was well embroiled in the expenses scandal though, and was accordingly turfed out by the electorate.


19th June   

Update: In the Lap of FemNazis...

Government propose new morality controls on lap dancing
Link Here
Full story: Lap Dancing License Change...UK lap dancing suffers repressive new licensing

New controls on lap-dancing clubs are planned by the Government following the nutter outcry over their rapid proliferation across the country.

50 Labour MPs were demanding that ministers closed a planning rule that forced councils to treat the clubs in the same way as cafes. There are now 300 pole-dancing venues in England and they are opening at a rate of almost one a week.

Gerry Sutcliffe, the Culture minister, signalled a clamp-down on the clubs as he admitted that the Government was worried by their rapid increase.

Ministers are preparing to amend licensing legislation so that lap-dancing clubs are classed as "sex encounter establishments" alongside sex cinemas and peep shows. Sutcliffe wrote to all England councils last night seeking their views on the issue. Whitehall sources made clear the move was the first step to new planning rules being imposed on the clubs.

Roberta Blackman-Woods, the Labour MP for Durham won cross-party support in the Commons yesterday for the first reading of a Bill designed to bring in the new laws. But it is unlikely to become law due to a lack of parliamentary time.


18th June   

Update: Britain in the Lap of FemNazis...

Pushing for morality based licensing of lap dancing
Link Here
Full story: Lap Dancing License Change...UK lap dancing suffers repressive new licensing

MPs are being urged to back calls to give local authorities the power to turn down applications for controversial lap dance clubs.

Currently, lap dance clubs are licensed in the same way as any ordinary pub or karaoke night with a Premises License.

Labour's Roberta Blackman-Woods says they should instead be licensed as "sex encounter establishments", to put them on a par with sex shops and cinemas.

She will outline her concerns in a 10-minute Rule Bill on Wednesday. Her bill is unlikely to become law without government backing, but provides her with a platform on which to spark debate.

Blackman-Woods says while it is not impossible for councils to turn down these applications if they think they would be inappropriate, it is difficult and should be easier.


16th June   

Dancing to the Moralist's Tune...

Labour considering allowing councillors more control over lap dancing
Link Here

The Government is open to the idea of re-classifying lap-dancing clubs as sex encounter rather than entertainment venues.

This could happen if feedback from councils shows the Licensing Act gives insufficient power for councillors to impose their own morality on people.

Labour peer Lord Bassam told the House of Lords that some authorities feel they are not adequately able to control these establishments under the Licensing Act.

Bassam revealed:

We are in the process of providing additional guidance for local authorities on the Licensing Act and how it can be used to deal with lap-dancing clubs.

As part of this process, we will be asking licensing authorities for feedback if they still have concerns. This will tell us if the controls under the Licensing Act are sufficient, or whether we need to do more to protect local communities.

If we find that there is a need to provide licensing authorities with additional powers to deal with any nuisance or criminal activity associated with lap-dancing establishments, we will consider the full range of options.

This could include changes to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, which regulates sex-encounter establishments (such as sex shops and sex cinemas).

Lap Dancing Association (LDA) spokeswoman Kate Nicholls said: We don't see that there's any need for re-classification to address the concerns raised. The LDA favours tightening up loopholes in the Licensing Act. For example, ensuring a major variation to a licence is always needed to host lap dancing.


6th June   

Internet Regulation...

Censorial MPs call for more internet blocking
Link Here

John Robertson, (Glasgow North West, Labour):

I am pleased to have the chance to discuss internet content and internet service providers with my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, not least because I have been trying to secure this debate for several months. I know that, like me, many of my colleagues regularly receive correspondence from constituents who are worried about internet content, and I have been especially keen to discuss those matters following the Byron review, but on several occasions I have been told by the Table Office that there is no Department appropriate to field such a debate. The strategy of representatives of each Department that we tried to assign it to has been to hold up its hands in affront and deny any responsibility for the matter.

My worry is that that is an allegory of the current situation relating to responsibility for internet content, and that the excuse is, sadly, endemic. ISPs claim to be mere inanimate conduits; search engines plead their neutrality; Ofcom has intentionally been denied any remit for content; other UK Executive and regulatory bodies, including the police, have powers over only a tiny minority of websites; and the Internet Watch Foundation is limited in the subjects it monitors and by the international nature of the internet. As a result, the various initiatives that have been implemented are piecemeal and inadequate, and the internet stands out as an anomaly against similar media as a place where, essentially, anything goes. It is a paradox that the efforts of ISPs to deal with illegal content are a strong argument for regulating them, as we see that the tools they have are the most effective method of controlling material online.

Before outlining my case, I should state that, as joint-chairman of the all-party communications group, I am a fully fledged internet enthusiast. I welcome the fact that just under 60 per cent. of households in the UK now have broadband, although I am disappointed that my own city, Glasgow, has the lowest uptake.

Even in the space of a decade, the internet has revolutionised the way many people live, from accessing information to socialising. Across the world, it has been an empowering and democratising force. I do not doubt that freedom for the network is important to its continuing evolution and, in that respect, our approach to regulating the internet in the UK will set an important precedent.

However, because the internet has come so far, we need to regulate content. What was originally a network that was exclusively confined to communications for the American military establishment is now in the majority of homes across the country and in three quarters of households with children. Furthermore, there is an increasing blurring of the distinctions between the internet and the traditional media and means of accessing services. Two examples are that half of all internet users have watched video online, and that BBC iPlayer has a weekly audience of around 1.1 million.

In the light of those trends, the argument that the Government previously used to justify inaction—that there is a tradition of non-regulation of the internet—surely becomes untenable. Together with the benefits of the internet, there has been a range of tangible negative effects for the UK. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and Revenue and Customs have both attributed a vast increase in counterfeit medicines to websites selling illegal drugs. The BPI has calculated that around £160 million was lost by the music industry through illegal downloads in 2007, and NBC Universal estimates that online piracy cost film and TV businesses £129 million a year. Those are coupled with less tangible effects, for instance, the increased availability of extremist and hate-inciting literature, or of young people being exposed to pro-disorder and suicide websites.

Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour):

Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the sites about suicide are truly evil? They not only encourage, urge, assist and facilitate people to take their lives, but distract especially youngsters from finding the help, advice and guidance that would enable them to live full and productive lives. We must find some way of monitoring and closing them.

John Robertson:

I thank my hon. Friend for her input. I know that her constituency has suffered more than most through young people committing suicide. It is the Government's duty to consider that and try to do something to help prevent people from committing suicide for some unknown reason, which makes them think that it is all right to do that.

As I have already said, no executive body in the UK covers content on the internet. The Government—wrongly in my opinion—purposely decided not to assign such a task to Ofcom in the Communications Bill in 2002.


One reason that was given for the Government's decision not to regulate content at the time was that the general law of the UK applies to the internet. A declaration, which seems slightly naive in retrospect, was made that,

what is illegal off-line is illegal online.

However, the real difficulty with the internet is that what is illegal and enforced in one place often bears little relation to what is illegal and enforced in another.

The existing law applies to websites that are hosted here, which means, for instance, that an online pharmacy hosted in the UK will need to comply with the same rules by which a high street pharmacy abides. However, those that are outside our jurisdiction will be free to continue as they wish. That is why we see websites based in the South Pacific, often with misleading "dot co dot uk" addresses, selling prescription drugs without the normal safeguards.

Alongside the general law, internet service providers, which are not required to have a licence to operate in the UK, have a self-regulatory regime for content. The fulcrum for that is the Internet Watch Foundation, which provides a notification service of illegal content to ISPs under three headings: child sex abuse images hosted anywhere in the world; criminally obscene content hosted in the UK; and incitement to racial hatred content hosted in the UK. The IWF has a hotline for members of the public and maintains a list of websites with material under those three headings that are potentially illegal. It instructs, albeit without sanction, the relevant host ISP to take down the website and refers details to the police. In the case of child abuse websites outside the UK, the IWF notifies the relevant national enforcement agencies where they are hosted.

It is important to note that although the IWF does not require ISPs to block content not hosted by them, some providers have undertaken to do this, such as BT, whose Cleanfeed programme blocks child abuse websites on the IWF list. The effect of that is to prevent BT customers from accessing such material, even when it is hosted outside the UK.

To return to the general law, the final facet that I should mention is the liability of ISPs. The e-commerce regulations of 2002 prevent liability for content unless, first, the ISP has been made aware of both its presence and its illegal or tortious nature and, secondly, the ISP is storing the information in some way, either through hosting or caching. As far as I am aware, the liability of ISPs for content has been tested only in a handful of defamation cases, and those only where the material had been hosted by the respective server in the UK.

That brief outline should make it clear that the regime for content—or, rather, the lack of a regime—leaves huge gaps. The most important and extensive of those is the fact that, for any material not hosted in the UK, including child abuse images, we are reliant on other countries being both prepared and able to shut down websites or specific pages. According to the IWF, less than 1 per cent. of potentially criminal content appearing online since 2003 has been hosted in the UK, so the general law and the self-regulatory approach reach only the tip of the iceberg. That is clearly not good enough. We must do far better.

The figures from the IWF are also interesting in that they show that around one fifth of the child abuse sites that it reports to other countries' regulatory agencies remain online for more than 50 days, and sometimes for up to 100 days, after being passed on. When we have the ability to block access to such sites, with programmes such as Cleanfeed, it is hard to understand why the Government have not been more demanding. Furthermore, as I have said, much of the material that would be illegal if hosted in the UK will be perfectly legal elsewhere. Many countries have far broader rights to freedom of speech and no prohibitions on inciting racial or religious hatred, and are far more lax when it comes to rules on obscenity.

The second limitation is that the IWF covers a narrow range of topics. There is no organisation concerned with general online content in the UK and, with billions of web pages worldwide and millions hosted in the UK, it is unrealistic to expect anything other than piecemeal control from UK Executive bodies with other priorities. Finally, the IWF and the general law are concerned only with what is illegal or tortious online, whereas many of my constituents have expressed concerns to me about material that is either harmful or offensive, such as that which my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) mentioned.

I would like to ask the Minister: how is it that we have heavily regulated content on TV, but we leave parents to police the internet and stand over their children while they use it? When it comes to illegal content at least, I would urge the Minister to place the responsibility on the ISPs. As the gatekeepers to the internet and, most importantly, being based in the UK, they are the obvious candidates to deal with such material. That is gradually being recognised across the world, with regulation in Australia and China and the Olivennes agreement in France.

Indeed, while the IWF system in the UK is cited by ISPs as a reason for not regulating them, it shows that the most effective way of tackling illegal content is to have service providers take it down and block it. With only a minute fraction of illegal content being hosted in the UK, any solution that is limited by our borders and jurisdiction is really no solution at all to the problems of the internet. The only thing we can really do is require ISPs to block that illegal content regardless of where it is hosted. If we do not do that, I ask the Minister, how can our efforts to tackle a host of crimes such as inciting religious or racial hatred possibly be taken seriously? If China and Australia can do it, why cannot we?

The objection that is often raised to that is that ISPs simply cannot filter or monitor content. In the light of that, it is interesting to note that network providers in France have undertaken to assess whether they will be able to implement such technology to tackle copyright infringement. But we need not be so burdensome to have an effective regime.

The IWF system of notification and takedown orders could form the basis of a broader system for tackling content, whereby ISPs would be required to block material in breach of the law that they were notified of. The Minister would no doubt ask how such a body could be resourced and funded, but I do not see that as an insurmountable problem. In negotiations between ISPs and the music industry, the rights holders are suggesting that they would take on policing and monitoring content.

While ISPs may not be responsible for producing and editing content that appears on their servers, they are the only ones with the power to deal with it, so why do the Government not force them to do so with a licensing regime? There has been movement from the Government on internet-based crimes such as grooming, which makes it bizarre that what would be illegal content in any other sphere is left unfettered simply because it appears online. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has also announced that ISPs will face regulation in 2009 unless they take action on copyright infringement, but that is too late—we needed it yesterday—and far too limited.

At the start of my speech, I mentioned that the Government decided during consideration of the last Communications Bill to exclude content from Ofcom's remit, and we have reaped what we sowed. The problem has grown since. With the possibility of a new communications Bill being introduced in the next Parliament, it is clear that we now have the technology to control content. The only remaining questions are whether we have the will power and the common sense.


Malcolm Wicks (Minister of State (Energy), Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, Croydon North, Labour):

My hon. Friend talked about the work of the Internet Watch Foundation, and I pay tribute to what it does, as well as to the way that the internet service provider community and others work with it to seek to ensure that such repugnant material is not available in the UK.

In many ways, it could be argued that the IWF is a model of how self-regulation can work. However, as my hon. Friend stated, it has limitations. As we have heard, it has a specific remit to deal with child sexual abuse content hosted worldwide, and criminally obscene and incitement to racial hatred content hosted in the UK. ISPs act promptly on information received by the IWF to take down or block access to sites carrying such material. The problem with extending the IWF model to other areas, such as copyright or the promotion of suicide, is that the issues are far less clear-cut and open to legal challenge. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) that I shall say more about issues involving suicide later in my speech.

The IWF does not want its remit to be extended to other areas, and there are good reasons for that. In the case of activities that are unambiguously illegal and recognised in all jurisdictions as unacceptable, it is relatively straightforward to maintain the collaboration that makes that system work. If more equivocal content were brought into the scope of the IWF's remit, it would be difficult to command the support of all who need to be engaged. So what can we do? I agree that the world has moved on since the Communications Act 2003. It would be very odd if things had not changed in five years in such a high-tech area, and the Government have already embarked on consideration of what those changes mean for the future regulation of content, whether it is broadcast, sent to a mobile phone or sent to a computer.

This is a market in which the services offered to consumers move very fast, but change for change's sake, or simply reacting to what the position is now, is not the way in which to ensure that the United Kingdom remains competitive. We need to anticipate how the online world will develop, and plan accordingly. That is why the Government set up a convergence think tank to examine the impact of convergence on the United Kingdom communications market and its implications for future policy, regulatory and legislative frameworks in relation to broadcasting and telecommunications, and the online world or the internet. We expect the think tank to report to the Secretaries of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and for Culture, Media and Sport early in 2009, and they may recommend new legislation if it seems necessary.

However, some of the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West are too urgent to be dealt with on that time scale. I am thinking of harmful and antisocial content on the internet which is unsuitable for some categories of users, such as children. Those are highly important issues. That is why the Prime Minister asked Dr. Tanya Byron to conduct an independent review of the risks posed to children by exposure to potentially harmful or inappropriate material on the internet and in video games, and that is why we accepted all Dr. Byron's recommendations without condition.

It is worth repeating that the Byron review recognised the enormous benefits of the internet, whose technology offers children—and adults—new opportunities for communication, participation and creativity to a degree never witnessed before. It can help children to improve some of the skills that are so crucial to their cognitive development. Inherent in those benefits is the ability to overcome many of the disadvantages and inequalities of real life, which has led some to hail the internet as providing the means to a more democratic media environment. That is the other side of the balance sheet.


However, along with the benefits come risks. We welcome Dr. Byron's recommendations, and her analysis of how we can properly manage those risks in a fast-changing new media environment. Later this month, the Government will publish an action plan for implementation of Dr. Byron's report. We intend to launch the United Kingdom council on child internet safety in September 2008, six months ahead of her recommended time scale.


I think it important—my hon. Friend referred to this—to stick to the principle that what is illegal offline is illegal online. Enforcement online might be much more difficult than offline, especially where those engaging in illegal activity are based outside this country, but that is no reason to apply different approaches as to what is and is not allowed, in particular when it comes to content that is considered undesirable rather than illegal.

My hon. Friend has called for a widely applicable solution based on blocking unpleasant or unlawful internet sites, based on the model of the Internet Watch Foundation. Network level blocking presents some difficulties. In reducing access to such material, we would need to weigh up the costs and potential difficulties against the evidence of benefits, and to compare its potential effectiveness against other options, such as improving filtering tools and pointing people towards sources of support and other positive material.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend raised the distressing issue of suicide websites, and the tragedies that have occurred in her own community. What is being done to protect people from websites that encourage suicide? The Government are deeply concerned about those websites and the influence that they can have on vulnerable people and, particularly, young people. We have accepted the recommendations of the Byron review, including that the new UK council on child internet safety look at whether the law on harmful and inappropriate online material could usefully be clarified, and that appropriate enforcement responses be explored. The Ministry of Justice is looking urgently at whether the law in that area could sensibly be strengthened, and will make an announcement shortly.

John Whittingdale (Maldon & East Chelmsford, Conservative):

Will the Minister address a point that was raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) on liability? The Select Committee was told by YouTube that, if it attempted to pre-screen material before it appeared on the site, it would potentially become legally liable for any inappropriate material that was posted. If that is the case, it is surely perverse that the law should make such sites more vulnerable for trying to do the right thing than for sitting back and doing nothing.

Malcolm Wicks:

I do not claim to be an expert on the law in that area, but, prima facie, that would seem perverse. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's question to the attention of my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice who are, as I have said, looking into these issues.

In conclusion, we need to find ways to protect the young or vulnerable online, but we need to do that in ways that do not unnecessarily impinge on freedom of speech, or try to create some kind of super-nanny internet. We also need to ensure that the internet continues to be able to offer the range and scope of services that people have increasingly come to expect and enjoy.


24th May   

Update: Undercover Investigation...

Parliamentary call for investigation into police action against Undercover Mosque
Link Here
Full story: Undercover Mosque...Police made false accusations re Undercover Mosque

The National Secular Society invite you to write to your MP and suggest signing Roger Godsiff's Early Day Motion (no. 1586)  which criticises West Midlands Police for its behaviour over the Channel 4 Undercover Mosque programme. The matter is one of immense public importance going to the very heart of the Justice system.

The motion reads:

That this House welcomes the unreserved public apology given by the West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service and the six figure libel settlement paid by them to Channel 4 over the Dispatches programme broadcast on 15th January 2007 which contained covert filming inside mosques in Birmingham and Derby; notes that the comments and allegations made by West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service had already been dismissed by the industry regulator, Ofcom; further notes that the individuals shown in the programme broadcast were using highly derogatory and racist language against a variety of non-Muslim groups which included Christians, Jews, homosexuals, lesbians and women and were in clear breach of existing legislation in respect of incitement to religious and racial hatred; calls on the Home Secretary to launch an immediate investigation into why the West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service chose to attack the programme makers at Channel 4 rather than investigating and prosecuting the individuals who were shown in the programme; and asserts that incitement to religious and racial hatred has no place in British society.


14th May   

Update: Leaking Watershed...

MPs discuss 9pm watershed for the internet
Link Here
Full story: Harmful Content...2007 Parliament Inquiry: Internet And In Video Games:

Ofcom has dismissed claims by a group of MPs that the 9pm watershed is failing to protect young children because they can now access television online.

Giving evidence at a culture, media and sport committee hearing today, the Ofcom chief executive, Ed Richards, denied the regulator had put itself in an "impossible and absurd position" by not doing more to regulate objectionable content on the web.

Richards was responding to claims made by Nigel Evans a conservative MP who argued that Ofcom's powers over broadcasting should be more rigorously applied to internet content.

It's important to remember that the watershed isn't dead, Richards said: Despite the internet, television remains remarkably resilient as a medium. The watershed is still a very important and I think it will remain so for several years.

The cross-party group of MPs raised concerns about services such as the BBC iPlayer, which make it possible for anyone to view post-watershed content at any time of the day.

The Ofcom partner for content and standards, Stuart Purvis, said a lot of the responsibility rested with parents to make sure their children were not watching inappropriate material: If you look at the iPlayer, it immediately asks you if you are over 16. The question that arises is: Are children going to understand that or are they going to override it?

He added that new technology had in a sense disadvantaged parents who might not necessarily know how to use access locks to protect children from post-watershed content.

However, both Purvis and Richards dismissed suggestions that it was the role of Ofcom on its own to encourage parents to become more aware of their children's online activities.

Richards said: We are definitely not the right body to deliver a mass campaign to promote media literacy. We are not qualified enough to do it. We don't have the skills to do it. I think somebody does have to do that, but it's not the duty of Ofcom. That sort of mass campaign to bring parents understanding of literacy issues is not appropriate for us.

Update: Related

15th May 2008

Back bench Labour MP Margaret Moran has introduced a private members bill in the House of Commons calling for online retailers to take reasonable steps to establish the age of its customers when selling adult goods and services.

The Online Purchasing Of Goods And Services (Age Verification) Bill gets its second reading on 16th May.

Update: No Mention

21st May 2008

No mention of the Bill in Hansard on the 16th May so presumably parliament didn't find time to debate it. So presumably it is no more.


10th May   

Blasphemy Laws Repealed...

House of Commons supports Lords repeal
Link Here

The House of Commons voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to support the abolition of the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel. This was the final stage in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, and the amendment was carried by 378 votes to 57. The Bill has received Royal Assent, so the blasphemy law is now officially dead and buried.

In a tetchy and bad-tempered parliamentary debate, Conservatives put in their final bid to block the abolition, arguing that it represented a significant step in the secularising of Britain. Some raised the spectre of it being the beginning of a process that would eventually lead to disestablishment. Government Minister Maria Eagle MP assured MPs that there was no such "hidden agenda".

Other MPs were, though, less shy about hoping that one day the Church of England would be disestablished. David Howarth, Liberal Democrat shadow Solicitor General said: It is the policy of my party to work towards the disestablishment of the Church, and the separation of Church and state. I am fairly comfortable with that position.

Howarth continued: The principle of the separation of Church and state is not about the separation of religion and politics, which I think is impossible. We cannot separate people's moral, religious views from their political views. We are talking about the state, not about society, and about the religious commitments of the state, not about whether people in society are religious or not. In the course of debate we have heard three separate arguments against the idea of state neutrality in religion. One of them; it might be called the "this is a Christian country" argument.

NSS honorary associate Dr Evan Harris, Lib Dem MP for Abingdon and Oxford (the original architect of this amendment), challenged Tory MPs who were arguing for the preservation of blasphemy laws. In an earlier debate that evening on the same Bill they had argued that new proposals to outlaw hatred against homosexuals would unnecessarily restrict the right of religious people to make clear their disapproval of homosexuality. Now they were arguing that the blasphemy law was necessary to protect religious people against offence. It seemed that their defence of free speech was not entirely consistent.

Dr Harris said: When it came to the issue of incitement to homophobic hatred, we heard a number of speeches and interventions from Conservative Members claiming that freedom of speech was critical and that freedom of expression was under threat. Yet when it comes to an issue—blasphemy, as opposed to incitement to hatred—that ca causes individuals themselves no damage, making the case for proscribing it much weaker, those very same people argue that freedom of expression has to go in order to maintain their version of no change. They want to maintain some symbolic law or the safety of the UK constitution, which they fear may be shaken to its foundations by the abolition of these unnecessary and discriminatory laws.


9th May   

Criminal Injustice and Immigration Act 2008...

Dangerous pictures and gay hate speech
Link Here

The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act has completed its 3rd reading in the House of Commons and has received Royal Assent so becomes law.

According to BBC Newsbeat, the Dangerous Pictures clauses will be enacted from January 2009.

John Beyer, Director of Mediawatch UK, and supporter of even stricter measures on pornography Said: It is important for there to be clear divide between what is legal and what is not. People need to know. Contrary to the views expressed by protesters, he feels the new law provides that clarity on extreme material. But there may be a need for an amnesty, during which the public are able to hand in any material that could be considered a crime to possess. The last thing anybody would want is for the police to be raiding people's homes.

The maximum penalty for obscene publications has also been raised from 3 years to 5 years in prison.

The Dangerous Pictures clauses went unamended but the Government backed down and allowed a free speech protection to be written into its proposed 'homophobic hatred' clauses.

The decision came after the Government was defeated for a second time in the House of Lords. Peers voted 178 to 164 in favour of the protection.

This marks the end of a lengthy battle to make clear that the new criminal offence should not interfere with free speech or religious liberty.

The amendment says, for the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.

Words or behaviour which are threatening and intended to stir up hatred will be caught by the offence, which carries a maximum seven year prison sentence.

Speaking in last night's debate, Lord Waddington said: My understanding is that the Government do not wish to see discussion stifled and people harassed, bullied, interrogated and sometimes arrested for expressing their views. However, if that is so, it really is time that they did something about it.

Senior judge and 'gay rights' sympathiser, Dame Butler-Sloss, agreed that free speech needed protecting. She said: ...there are religious groups, not only Christians, not only bishops, but many Jews and Muslims, which share strong views that they gain from the Bible, the Old Testament in particular, or the Koran. Those people are potentially at risk.

She continued: It is those people who will potentially be intimidated; they will certainly be bothered and may go through an extremely unfortunate experience before calmer heads point out that under the new clause, as under older clauses, they have not committed any offence.

The Government said the issue could be made clear by publishing guidance instead of inserting a free speech protection into the Bill. But Lord Clarke said: If we mean that we are to maintain the principle of free speech, we should make sure that it is in this Bill and not leave it to the interpretation of guidelines, which would become another lawyers' paradise.

Following the Lords vote, the Government backed down and the measure was passed by a substantial majority in the Commons. The offence will become law with the free speech protection included.


1st May   

Be Afraid...Be Very Afraid...

House of Lords clears dawn raids for the Dangerous Pictures police
Link Here

The House of Lords passed the Dangerous Pictures Act, within the Criminal Justice & Immigration Bill, last night with no meaningful amendments whatsoever.

As usual, a surreal debate with most Lords who spoke pointing out the nastiness of law. But the votes cast against a helpful amendment was telling at 134 to 91.

The bill is now likely to be rubber stamped at a guillotined 3rd reading in the Commons.


29th April   

Dangerously Obscene Law...

Dangerous Pictures Amendments to be debated at 3rd reading
Link Here

Amendments to the Criminal Injustice Act have been tabled for the 3rd Reading

Baroness Miller and Lord Wallace have suggested that dangerous pictures should be defined as both violent and legally obscene. They have also proposed reducing the maximum sentence from 3 to 2 years.

The evil Lord Hunt has proposed a minor exemption. Those participating in the dangerous pictures and hence knowing that they were produced legally would be exempt. Surely a recipe for injustice as the same images would be legal for some to own and illegal for others

Clause 62


Page 49, line 31, 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)."

After Clause 64


Insert the following new Clause—
"Defence: participation in consensual acts
(1) This section applies where—
(a) a person ("D") is charged with an offence under section 62, and
(b) the offence relates to an image that portrays an act or acts within paragraphs (a) to (c) (but none within paragraph (d)) of subsection (7) of that section.
(2) It is a defence for D to prove—
(a) that D directly participated in the act or any of the acts portrayed, and
(b) that the act or acts did not involve the infliction of any non-consensual harm on any person, and
(c) if the image portrays an act within section 62(7)(c), that what is portrayed as a human corpse was not in fact a corpse.
(3) For the purposes of this section harm inflicted on a person is "non-consensual" harm if—
(a) the harm is of such a nature that the person cannot, in law, consent to it being inflicted on himself or herself; or
(b) where the person can, in law, consent to it being so inflicted, the person does not in fact consent to it being so inflicted."

Clause 65


Page 52, line 3, leave out subsections (2) to (4) and insert—
"(2) A person guilty of an offence under section 62 is liable—
(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both;
(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years."


Page 52, line 8, leave out "depict" and insert "portray"


26th April   

Update: Campaign for a Drear Britain...

Nutters attract MPs to the anti-lap dancing cause
Link Here
Full story: Lap Dancing License Change...UK lap dancing suffers repressive new licensing

Nutters say an increasing number of MPs are joining their fight to give local authorities greater power over lap-dancing clubs.

Sandrine Leveque, a spokeswoman for the nutters of Object, said efforts were under way to build support for a 10-Minute Rule Bill to be introduced by the Durham MP Roberta Blackman-Woods at the end of May. She said the campaign had the backing of about 35 MPs, a third of the number they are hoping to attract: We have received some really good feedback from local authorities since we drew attention to the loophole. This is a cross-party issue and one which affects men and women of all walks of life. We are hoping to gain support from at least 100 MPs.

An early day motion by Lynda Waltho, MP for Stourbridge, which supports empowering councils to license venues as sex encounter establishments, has gathered 26 signatures from predominantly Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs over the past four days.

Since the first mainstream club, For Your Eyes Only, opened 13 years ago, the number of clubs countrywide has risen to 300, more than doubling in the past four years. Five local authorities which have attempted to block new establishments have been defeated on appeal.

The campaigners want to categorise the clubs as sex encounter establishments, giving local authorities the same power over them as they do with sex shops and cinemas. They are calling for a change in the law to give councils the right to reject applications for pole-dancing venues.

The Lap Dancing Association (LDA) retorted this week that, while it was concerned about the practices of irresponsible operations and potential links with prostitution, classifying clubs as sex encounter establishments would only drive such operators underground. It urged the campaign group to work with it to improve standards, claiming that much of the literature on the subject was inaccurate and sensationalist.


23rd April   

Labour Dragon Lanced...

Lords fight for St George, free speech and jokes about gays
Link Here

Comedians and church leaders have claimed a victory for free speech after Government plans to ban jokes about homosexuals were rejected in the House of Lords.

Peers inflicted an overwhelming defeat on the Government by amending the Criminal Injustice Bill to protect the freedom of speech of comics, rap artists and those who criticise other people's sexuality.

The television stars Rowan Atkinson and Christopher Higgins, who is himself homosexual, are among the prominent figures to have spoken out against the proposal to create a new offence of incitement to “homophobic hatred”.

Following the amendment, the offence will apply only to those who incite violence or harassment against homosexual men and lesbians, rather than jokes or broader criticism about alternative lifestyles, such as lyrics in rap songs.

Religious groups had campaigned against the Government proposal, saying it would criminalise those who voiced concerns on a range of issues, from the teaching on sexual orientation in schools to depictions of homosexuality in film and television.

Peter Tatchell, the prominent homosexual rights campaigner, also spoke out against the measure, arguing that freedom of speech should be sacrosanct.

Peers backed the amendment, tabled by the former Conservative home secretary Lord Waddington, by 81 votes to 57. He was supported by the Labour peer Lord Clarke of Hampstead, who told their lordships that critics of homosexuality should be able to speak freely without risk of police action.

If it is accepted by MPs, the new freedom of speech protection would prevent prosecutions such as that currently under way against the Oxford University student, Sam Brown, arrested after he called a police horse “gay” during a drunken conversation with two mounted police officers.

Ministers are now considering whether to seek to fight the amendment when the Bill returns to the House of Commons.

A spokeswoman from the Ministry for Justice said: We are disappointed by the outcome of the vote in the Lords on Lord Waddington's amendment.

Campaigners say they are confident the amendment will not be thrown out, as the Government is keen to rush other measures contained in the Bill, including a ban on strike action in prisons, on to the statute books.


23rd April   

Update: Imminent Danger...

Lords Amendment to scrap Dangerous Pictures clauses fails
Link Here

In the light of sheer intransigence by Lord Hunt on the part of the Government being totally unwilling to even consider the first set of amendments (ie incorporating the Sexual Offences Act, the Obscene Publications Act and the "consent" defence), Baroness Miller has withdrawn those and, instead, they are now voting on the Amendments to remove the Extreme Porn clauses entirely.

Unfortunately this amendment was defeated by 66 votes to 30.

There are further opportunities to vote eg at the 3rd reading but the feeling is that wider groups of Lords are even more likely to support the Dangerous Pictures clauses.

It looks like Britain will soon become an even more unpleasant land.

Update: A New Defence

Lord Hunt conceded there should be a new defence, which he will lay before the Third Reading: I am aware that the noble Lord has concerns about individuals who keep a record of themselves freely and willingly participating in bondage, domination, submission and sado-masochistic practices in which no unlawful harm occurs. I recognise that it would be anomalous for a person to be committing an offence by possessing an image of an act which he undertook perfectly lawfully. We intend to introduce at Third Reading a defence which addresses precisely that situation.

Comment: Says it All

From IanG on the Melon Farmers Forum
See also parliamentary transcript from TheyWorkForYou

Doesn't this say it all?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester (Labour):

My Lords, I, too, expressed reservations about these clauses in Committee and took very much the same line as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, did on that occasion. I looked carefully at the amendments that my noble friend brought forward and I said in Committee that I thought that they represented an improvement on what was there before.

I think that I am the only Member of your Lordships` House who took up the invitation of my noble friend to visit Charing Cross police station to view some of what one might call the exhibits that underlie the Government`s thinking on this matter. A variety of adjectives comes to mind, such as "bizarre", "unpleasant", "distasteful", even "repulsive", but the images were not in any sense sexually arousing. At the end of the visit, I was left with the question whether their possession is so threatening to society that it is worth turning people into criminals and sending them to jail if they happen to have them on a computer screen at home or have obtained them some other way.

I suspect that, like me, many noble Lords have had a fair number of submissions on this subject from a variety of organisations. Some of them are very articulate and well argued. The main point that comes through was expressed by an organisation called backlash, which said: The proposals are still, despite the recent amendments, worded in such a way as to risk inadvertently criminalising hundreds of thousands of British citizens.

He went on to say:

Equally importantly, people will be deterred from exploring their sexual preferences for fear that their research may lead them into illegal territory which in turn can cause both distress and mental health issues as well as being a fundamental breach of their human rights".

The point is also made by a number of these organisations that most of the scenes to which my noble friend introduced me at Charing Cross are not real scenes but are faked for the benefit of their creation or are the product of an entirely consensual activity, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, pointed out. I am at one with my noble friend Lord McIntosh and, I suspect, with the Minister in wanting to prosecute illegal activity that has taken place in order to create these images. However, if no illegal activity has taken place and we are concerned about merely the possession of the images, I really cannot imagine that any useful purpose is served by creating criminals out of the people who possess them.

My worry is that the wording of the Bill is still much too vague and could cover all sorts of light, consensual and safe imagery which many people enjoy and practise and which at present is perfectly legal but which as a consequence of these clauses will certainly become illegal. In Committee, I finished by asking my noble friend a question. I did not get an answer on that occasion and I therefore put the same question to him now. As a new offence is being created by these clauses, what will be the position of people who have already downloaded material on to their computers that until now has not been illegal but henceforth will be? Will the possession of that be regarded as a criminal offence and, if it is, what advice are the Government offering to help people to get rid of it? This is an important issue. This House cannot pass legislation that inadvertently turns people into criminals, particularly when the activity in which they are engaging is not doing anybody outside their own homes any harm.


9th April   

Dangerous Pictures Appropriate to Scotland...

Scottish Parliament plans for extreme pornography law
Link Here

Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill

Elaine Smith (Coatbridge and Chryston) (Lab): I note that the legislative consent memorandum refers to three specific areas of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. I was concerned when I saw it last week—I understand that the motion does not include clauses 113 to 120, which relate to pornography. I would be grateful if the minister could confirm that the issues around possession of extreme pornography, which are covered in the Westminster bill, will be dealt with by Scottish legislation, as was indicated by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing in response to an oral question from me. She stated:

We have consulted on new law to prohibit extreme pornographic images, and will now work to implement the outcome of the consultation "

Women's organisations in Scotland and organisations with an interest in tackling violence against women would welcome having input into the implementation of that process and are keen to ensure that the issue will still be dealt with as a devolved matter.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Kenny MacAskill) : I am aware of Elaine Smith's track record in quite correctly pursuing the matter. The point that she raises is perfectly valid, and it is appropriate for me to explain clearly that, as is mentioned in the legislative consent memorandum, we are seeking to address various gaps, for example relating to violent offenders doing something significantly wrong. I refer to actions that are taken—as is sought south of the border—regarding those people if it is felt that they might escape punishments or requirements by moving north of the border. Clearly, people have been seeking to do that.

There are matters under the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill that are being legislated on south of the border that relate to pornography. As Elaine Smith has correctly said, legislation that will apply south of the border is being introduced in that regard. As was mentioned and has been dealt with by my ministerial health colleagues, there was a joint Scottish Executive and Home Office consultation on extreme pornography. We have legislative competence on that area here in Scotland.

We are working on proposals and are more than happy to meet Elaine Smith because of the valuable input that she and the people with whom she has communicated and whom she has represented can give. We intend to legislate on the matter in due course, rather than introduce measures that have been decided on south of the border and which are predicated on the situation there. To an extent, the member answered her own question. I can say that, in due course, we intend to address the matter that she correctly raises, but we will do so within the competence of the Parliament and in a manner that is appropriate for Scotland.


5th April   

Manhunt for a Nutter...

Keith Vaz pushes for parliamentary debate about video games
Link Here

Keith Vaz (Leicester East, Labour)

When can we have a debate on the excellent Byron review, which was published this morning? It accepts finally and for the first time that children can be affected by violent video games and access to the internet, that that process needs to be monitored carefully, and that we need a new partnership between parents and the industry. Will the Government accept the recommendations in full? If they are prepared to accept the recommendations, when can the House debate the matter, as so many Members on both sides are keen to do so?

Harriet Harman (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his long-standing work on and concern about these issues. That would be a good subject for a topical debate, and I accept what he says as a proposal for such a debate. I thank Tanya Byron for her work. It is common sense that there should be clear labelling so that we can understand the different levels of videos and games. She is absolutely right that there needs to be joint work and that responsibility lies with the Government, the industry and parents, who all need to take action and work together on this.

I want, too, to acknowledge the work of the Internet Watch Foundation, which works with the industry and provides a hotline for parents. The Government accept the findings of the Byron report. We will produce an action plan, but before that it would be a good idea to have a debate in the House.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark & Bermondsey, Liberal Democrat)

May I follow the last exchange by joining the tribute to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee? I support the call for a debate on the labelling of videos and also on the management of amusement arcade machines, which often have equally violent scenes. It is obvious nonsense that we have never managed to get a grip on the sort of violence youngsters can see in places to which they have easy access. If we can debate that soon, it would be welcome.

Early Day Motion 1271

See full article from Parliament

Byron Review

Submitted by Keith Vaz

That this House warmly welcomes the publication of Tanya Byron's report Safer Children in a Digital World; notes that it accepts that violent video games do have an effect on children and therefore their availability to children needs to be properly controlled; considers that it is only through a partnership between parents, retailers and the video games industry that these issues can be tackled; and calls on the Government to implement the recommendations immediately in full.

Signed by

Keith Vaz, Peter Bottomley, Glenda Jackson, Chris McCafferty, Mike Hancock, Katy Clark, Jeremy Corbyn, David Taylor, Martin Caton, Andrew Dismore, David Drew, Mark Durkan, Robert N Wareing, Brian Jenkins, Elfyn Llwyd, Alasdair McDonnell, Hywel Francis, Rudi Vis, Janet Dean, Betty Williams

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