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House of Commons

Monday 5 January 2004

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Pornographic Publications

1. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): What her policy is on preventing pornographic publications from being sold to children. [145827]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): In answering, I welcome my hon. Friend—I mean the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride), but she may, one never knows, become an hon. Friend—to her new duties on the Opposition Front Bench.

Children must, of course, be protected from exposure to pornography, and I commend Bedfordshire county council and the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) for their efforts in that area. The magazine industry has established voluntary top-shelf arrangements covering the display and sale of pornographic publications, and those are welcome. In

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practice, however, there may be difficulties in defining closely what is or is not deemed to be pornographic or obscene under the framework of the Obscene Publications Acts.

There is a case for exploring what more might practically be done to safeguard children in the light of Bedfordshire county council's experience. I therefore intend to convene a meeting with the Local Government Association and other interested parties, including relevant Departments, to discuss the issue.

Andrew Selous : I am heartened by the Secretary of State's reply. Bedfordshire's trading standards authority has clearly shown from its under-age surveillance work that children are being sold sexually explicit material, as is no doubt the case elsewhere. Will the Government make a commitment to pursue Bedfordshire's proposal that trading standards authorities be empowered to prosecute traders for selling sexually explicit material to children, just as they prosecute traders who sell them alcohol or cigarettes?

Tessa Jowell: Having set out the position in my opening answer, I do not want at this stage to commit myself to the outcome of the discussions that we intend to hold. On the basis that we will examine whether the experience in Bedfordshire is a problem that faces local authorities more widely, we will engage in those discussions and produce proposals that are proportionate and practical, and we will, wherever possible, work with the industry.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Happy new year, Mr. Speaker.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the problem is no longer a question only of the sale of these materials to young people; they are freely available on the internet. All right hon. and hon. Members seem to be particularly plagued by them. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that we are looking at how to shut down all

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manner of spam involving pornographic material on the basis that we should be prosecuting? I look forward to hearing how she intends to take that forward.

Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend has a long-standing concern about and interest in this area. He will be aware of the Government's position, which was clearly set out during debates in both Houses on the Communications Act 2003. There are undoubtedly inconsistencies as regards the licensing of videos, the non-licensing of magazines and the unregulated status of the internet. I am committed to achieving the maximum protection for children while taking account of those inconsistencies and the increasing ease with which children are able to secure pornographic material.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): Does the Minister recognise that one of the most serious problems is not the top shelf but the bottom shelves on which magazines such as More!, published by Emap, are readily on display and on sale to young children? If the Minister would take the trouble to read such magazines, she would find that they concentrate on the mechanics of sex and that they contain little moral content. It is little wonder that our children have no moral leadership in this country when that sort of material is freely available.

Tessa Jowell: There is an important distinction to be drawn as regards the market for teenage magazines, which I believe provide a very important service, by and large, for many young people. Yes, those magazines provide entertainment, gossip and tittle-tattle, but for many young people—this is to be regretted—they are the principal source of information about sex, development and relationships. By and large, that is a responsibility that the magazines discharge responsibly, through the Periodical Publishers Association and other industry associations. There is all the difference in the world between those magazines and the kind of magazines to which the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire referred, which are pornographic and, in some cases, questionably obscene.

Women's Sport (Funding)

2. Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): What assessment she has made of the level at which women's sport is funded compared with men's sport. [145828]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): Until recently, Sport England has based all its funding decisions on objective assessments of sporting need, without specific regard to gender issues. The Government's cross-departmental activity co-ordination team, the chairmanship of which is shared between my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and Tourism and the Under-Secretary with responsibility for public health, my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson), will investigate whether that has produced disparities in provision as part of its work on building the evidence base for our developing sports policy. The 20 sports that will receive one-stop planning support from Sport England and UK Sport must have full equity agreements in place. Those

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agreements include a requirement to meet gender-funding targets that are based on the circumstances of the individual sports.

Dr. Harris : I am grateful to the Secretary of State for explaining what work is being done. She will recognise that compared with the USA, our position on women's sport is very poor. We have no professional football league for women and snooker's governing body recently withdrew funding for women's snooker. Does she recognise that without better media coverage of women's sport—the skill displayed, not just the outfits and appearance of the participants—we will continue to have difficulty in encouraging girls at school to continue with sport in the way that boys do, in emulation of their role models? Do the Government have any role in providing funding to redress the gender imbalance in the media coverage of sport?

Tessa Jowell: No, I do not see a role for the Government in providing funding for media coverage. However, I see a case for funding national sports governing bodies and Sport England—as we are doing—to increase participation in sport by young women and girls. All the evidence shows that when measures are introduced to encourage more girls to take part in sports—such as the Nike initiative, which operates through school sports partnerships—they do so. The problem is greater at the grass roots level of sporting activity than at the elite end. We are well aware of the weaknesses in performance in meeting the needs of women in sport, and we intend to do everything that we can to rectify them.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend believe that the BBC should have a public service remit to cover women's sport? In the licence fee changes that may be made after 2006, will she ensure that the right of women's sport to equal coverage is printed and published in the BBC's public service remit?

Tessa Jowell: That is an interesting proposition, and I am sure that my hon. Friend, who is active in such areas, will ensure that the current consultation on the review of the BBC's charter notes that precise point.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con): I welcome the Chancellor's recent acceptance—at long last—of mandatory rate relief for community and amateur sports clubs. As the Secretary of State will know, I long argued for that provision from the Dispatch Box. In view of her reply to the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), does she agree that community clubs are more likely to persuade girls and young women to take part in sport when schools and colleges are not so successful in doing so?

Tessa Jowell: Such organisations have an important part to play and measures such as those announced by the Chancellor to improve the financial security of community sports clubs will help. The steps that we are taking to improve links between sport in school and in clubs, through investment in school-club links, will also increase the opportunities for participation for young women.

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