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Column 1373Government's new Broadcasting Bill will remove from broadcasters their present exemption from the Obscene Publications Act 1959. We do not think that they are broadcasting obscene material in breach of their existing duties, but they should not be in a specially privileged position. The Broadcasting Bill will ensure also that proper standards are adopted as technologies develop from terrestrial broadcasting via cable to satellite.
The police and the Crown prosecution service are independent of Government, but they are alert to the possibility of bringing proceedings against publishers when there is evidence that the law has been broken, for instance, by sending indecent material through the post or by living on immoral earnings. Unfortunately, in the nature of things, those offences are not easy to prove.
The major legislation in addition to the Obscene Publications Act is the Protection of Children Act 1978, which creates offences of producing or supplying indecent photographs of children. The maximum penalty is a term of imprisonment of up to three years'. Some people--I regret that I cannot say how many--guilty of child pornography will have been prosecuted and convicted under the 1959 Act and will be included in the figures that I gave a few moments ago. In addition, there have been prosecutions under the 1978 Act. They have risen from 10 in 1986 to 32 last year.
It has been suggested that the maximum penalty of three years' imprisonment under the Protection of Children Act is inadequate. We are ready to reconsider this, although we are not yet convinced. To date, it has been rare for the courts to use anything approaching that maximum.
One of the difficulties which the police have found with the Protection of Children Act 1978 is that of proving that someone who has indecent photographs of children in his possession has them for the purpose of supply. It was to meet this weakness that we made provision in last year's Criminal Justice Act for a new offence of simple possession of an indecent photograph of a child. It does not matter whether the person is a commercial pornographer or a customer who has the photograph for his own use.
I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the powers to deal with child pornography directly, and in particular are strict and wide-ranging. Given the reorganisation which the Commissioner has made in the Metropolitan police's obscene publications branch, we have the necessary arrangements now to crack down heavily on this trade. The hon. Gentleman is interested in the wider effects of pornography. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary told him a few weeks ago, the Home Office is undertaking a further review of the
Column 1374available research on any possible link between pornography and sexual violence. We elaborated on this in the further answer that we gave him yesterday.
Over the years, research into the impact of pornography on people's behaviour has generally produced equivocal results. For many, not least the hon. Gentleman, as he has powerfully argued today, it is common sense that pornography must tend to cause those who see it to regard women or children as sex objects, making them more likely to commit offences against them. Others argue that pornography may have a role as a safety valve for anti- social feelings which might otherwise be expressed in criminal behaviour, and that those who commit such crimes are likely to be interested in pornography, although without the latter being the cause of that interest, but merely a symptom of it.
Although earlier research has generally been inconclusive, we think it only right that we should have the most reliable data available. We therefore intend to draw together reports of research in this country and overseas-- not least the Cline report, which, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, was conducted in the United States--to analyse them and to present any conclusions, with whatever weight of evidence we can find.
The review of research will look broadly at the effects of pornography, including any evidence of its effects on attitudes to women, which have been of particular concern to hon. Members, in addition to the hon. Gentleman. Our intention is that that review should be carried out quickly- -within the first half of next year--and that the results should be published, as is our usual practice. We shall most certainly arrange for that work to be done by independent professionals, but we shall not decide whether to commission any original research until we have the findings and can see what gaps need filling.
Mr. Lloyd : We certainly look to the public to supply us with any data which has some scientific basis and which we have can include in the study. However, at this stage we do not want anecdotal evidence and information. It is an exercise to study scientifically based research, and when we publish the results the House can discuss the best way to proceed.
I know that that matter has been exercising the hon. Gentleman's mind, because he has tabled many questions about it. I congratulate him on choosing this topic for discussion ; the Home Office and I take it extremely seriously. I congratulate him on putting his case so well.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at Three o'clock.
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