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That, at the sitting on Wednesday 2nd February 2005, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 16 (Proceedings under an Act or on European Union documents), the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Mr Secretary Clarke relating to Police Grant Report (England and Wales) not later than three hours after their commencement, and shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motions in the name of Mr Secretary Prescott relating to Local Government Finance (England) not later than six hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion relating to Police Grant Report (England and Wales); proceedings may continue after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.[Joan Ryan.]
Declares that the undersigned support the current maternity special care baby unit, children's unit and other services provided at Wycombe General Hospital. The undersigned also object to the proposed closure of the Haleacre unit.
Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): It is an indication of the fast-changing world in the 21st century that I rise to debate a subject that 10 years ago would not have been an issue, because the internet was in its infancy. We live in a digital agean information agethat has revolutionised communications to the huge benefit of mankind. However, all new technological developments, such as nuclear power, genetic engineering and computer technology generally, can be put to bad and evil uses as well as to good ones.
The internet, chat rooms and e-mail enable people who are thousands of miles apart to communicate with each other at a cost that most people can afford and with a high degree of anonymity. That means that we now live in a society in which our neighbour in the apartment next door may be less well known than someone we converse with in a chat room thousands of miles away. That has dangers as well as advantages.
In addition, cyberspace has become a powerful medium in which to sell products and services. It does not respect national boundaries or national legislation and, by its very nature, it can conceal the physical location of the source of internet information and, of course, the author of such information. To legislate to regulate and control such an environment is a major challenge if we are to prevent the internet from being misused to damage people's lives and livelihoods.
The use of the internet to promote suicide is a growing problem. I use the word "promote" advisedly, because certain websites, written publications, organisations and individuals are encouraging people to commit suicide, for whatever reason. The tragic death of 19-year-old Sarah Cherry in Lancashire late last year is the case that first brought my attention to this tragic phenomenon. Early-day motion 170, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow), highlighted the case of Sarah who, after discussing suicide in an internet chat room, purchased a book from Amazon.com on how to commit suicide and subsequently killed herself. My hon. Friend, in his early-day motion, called for legal action to be taken against those who write, publish or sell material or distribute information on the internet about how to commit suicide. I echo that call.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Our regional newspaper, the Lancashire Evening Post, and its campaign "Stop the peddlers of death" have highlighted this and other tragic cases of suicide. Does my hon. Friend agree that libraries that stock manuals to encourage suicide should remove them from their shelves immediately?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I was about to come to the point he makes about libraries. In fact, Lancashire county libraries have taken the book "Final Exit" from their shelves. It is the same book that Sarah Cherry acquired from Amazon.com. Although it has been withdrawn from the shelves, Amazon.com has refused calls not to sell it and persists in selling it over the internet.
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Although that case brought the matter to my attention, the problem is more widespread than most people imagineso much so that, as my hon. Friend said, the Lancashire Evening Post has taken it up. The newspaper has raised the matter with local MPs, including myself, the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), whom I am happy to see in the Chamber, and my hon. Friends the Members for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) and for South Ribble.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the publicity that the Lancashire Evening Post afforded the campaign addresses another crucial dimension of the mattermaking parents aware of what their sons and daughters might be up to when using the internet? The internet offers a private method of communication, but if people have it in their nature that suicide is a possibility, does he agree that the more parents who know about the problem through campaigns such as that in the newspaper, the better?
Mr. Hendrick: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Parents should be made aware of the situation and, as I shall say later, it is important for the Government to do more to make people aware. Internet service providers should consider providing filters to help to tackle the problem, as they do for illegal pornography.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): The north-west is not the only region that faces the problem. There was a tragic incident in my constituency, as a result of which an organisation called PAPYRUSI think that the hon. Gentleman will be aware of ithas tried to bring together parents who have suffered such tragedies after young people have been affected by information from the internet. I know that there is national concern about the situation, which supports his initiative tonight.
I have researched the matter and it is abundantly clear that the Suicide Act 1961 is woefully inadequate to deal with the use of the internet for the promotion of suicide. I say that for the reasons that I have outlined: cyberspace does not respect national boundaries or legislation, and both the physical location and author of a source of information can be concealed.
Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab): I hope that my hon. Friend appreciates that 78 hon. Members have signed early-day motion 170, which indicates the tremendous strength of feeling about the matter in the House. When he talks about cyberspace having no limits, does he agree that there are no limits on age? Young people at a vulnerable ageas young as 11, 12 or 13could access the information. It is especially depraved to target such young people.
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