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My Bill seeks to allow the appropriate regulation of sexually explicit material such as that in lads mags and the Daily Sport and the Sunday Sport.

Before I begin, I must tell the House that much of the material from those publications that I would have liked to have quoted has, after long consultation with your office, Mr. Speaker, been deemed to be too obscene to be spoken in this Chamber. I ask Members present to reflect on the fact that while they may never have seen such material and are today unable to hear it read out loud in detail, those publications are available for purchase by children in nearly every newsagent in Britain.

My first example of such material is provided by the Daily Sport and the Sunday Sport. Inside such so-called newspapers, the overwhelming majority of the content comprises adverts for hard-core pornography, sex chat lines, national directories of sex shops and every other form of adult entertainment. There are quite literally thousands of adverts per issue—often page after page. One page alone may have up to 700 one-line ads for masseurs/escorts, accompanied by graphic images.

Another shocking example of such disgraceful content is provided by the issue that covered Jane Longhurst’s murder by a necrophile addict. In the Daily Sport the sex life of her murderer was described as being a series of “adventurous romps”. Jane’s murder was not presented as a tragedy, but instead was degraded to what can only be described as a deviant narrative designed to appeal to the most depraved members of our society.

The problem is compounded by banners across the top of the Daily Sport that advertise hard-core sex websites. Those are simply a portal to hard-core porn sites, which advertise the Daily Sport, while hard-core porn mail-out catalogues in turn advertise the same paper.

In a similar manner, lad mags—or so-called men’s lifestyle magazines—provide another clear example of the total failure of current media regulation. Publications such as FHM, Zoo, Nuts and the like are sexually explicit and highly sexually denigrating. The question hon. Members must ask themselves is why such publications are not on the top shelves, given that their content is barely indistinguishable from recognisable top-shelf pornography.

In those publications, women are shown only as cheap and contemptible sexual commodities, fit only to be subjected to a range of exploitative, violent and degrading activities. An example of the content is a recent issue of Zoo magazine, which features images of girl-on-girl action and jokes about women enjoying being urinated on and having sex with animals. Its “tit op comp” invites men to win breast enlargements for their girlfriends, with the declared purpose of transforming them

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This is a magazine being sold or provided to young boys under the age of 16. What impressions are they gaining about the importance of a woman in our society and what messages are we sending to young girls? It is that we condone their use and misuse in any way that makes the editors, producers and distributors of this so-called literature a profit. Is this type of sexual activity and literature so normal that it can be displayed next to The Beano and The Dandy? Something must be done.

I believe that it is strongly in our interests as a society to restrict the availability of this material. While those publications are clearly sexually explicit, exploitative and denigrating, there is currently no meaningful regulation in place to ensure that they are sold as age-restricted and on the top shelf. Throughout its history, the British media has achieved a balance between decency and freedom of expression. For centuries, our country has led the world in its ability to combine a freedom of choice for society while at the same time protecting its most vulnerable members. The availability and impact of publications such as Zoo, Nuts and the Daily Sport are undermining that reputation.

Regulation has worked well for other industries. The British Board of Film Classification has allowed the film industry to go from strength to strength, while at the same time protecting the development of our nation’s youth. A 9 pm television watershed and internet controls have given parents a choice over what their children watch or where they surf. Considering the success of such measures, why is there no regulatory mechanism in the print media that affords women and children a similar protection? If it is right to have measures in place to protect children within the film, TV and internet industries, why are they not in place for the explicit sex magazines and so-called newspapers that feature so freely on our nation’s shelves? If that were the case, all the publications that I am concerned about would be rated 18-plus and would have to carry explicit warnings about their content.

Currently, the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and the Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981 are entirely inadequate for the regulation of today’s media. Those Acts are applied by the courts only to the most extreme forms of pornography and at present the law is simply not equipped to deal with the sort of material found in lad mags or the Daily Sport. Tellingly, there are no legal definitions of pornography in existence—not even of the word “indecent”.

Although the publishers of newspapers and magazines are currently regulated by the Press Complaints Commission, that body has no codes regarding sexual explicitness and it has refused to consider introducing guidelines even over the explicitness of the covers of newspapers and magazines. In a similar manner, while the sale of newspapers and magazines are monitored by a retail regulator, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, it issues purely voluntary codes to retailers and has no powers to impose fines. Retailers are under no obligation whatsoever to abide by its recommendations.

I have previously contacted WH Smith to discuss this issue, but the chairman refused to speak to me, presumably because he is very happy with the profits he
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is earning as a result of his role in promoting and distributing that literature. WH Smith is the largest distributor for such publications and, despite hearing my arguments, it continues to make those publications available to children.

Today we have an opportunity to force an industry to uphold those principles that we value in everyday life. The Bill proposes the establishment of a new, independent, non-partisan regulator for the sale and display of sexually explicit material, with binding codes and transparent, well publicised guidelines—a regulator that is socially responsible and not motivated by profit and could take the onus off commercially motivated retailers and publishers to act as regulators.

I want our children and the women who have been the subject of sexual abuse and misuse to be properly protected from what is now freely displayed to them, and normalises and glamorises degrading and often violent activity. I believe that my measure will do something towards that surely admirable end. I commend it to the House.

3.40 pm

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): The Bill is clearly well intentioned in trying to protect minors from exposure to thoroughly unpleasant publications. There cannot be an hon. Member in the House who disagrees about the fact that minors deserve that protection and that their parents would expect the law to achieve that aim.

I wish to oppose the Bill, however, because I believe that it is wrong in two respects: first, in its proposal that a Government office should be set up to regulate the sale and display of such material; and secondly, in its failure to take proper account of the co-operation of the women portrayed.

I became interested in the subject some months ago when I received a copy of the Daily Sport in my postbag. I was surprised at how many large advertisements it contained for hard-core pornography, together with pictures of women wearing nothing more than a lascivious expression. I was even more surprised to find that that was eligible material for display alongside newspapers, where such publications are readily accessible to children.

A range of lifestyle magazines is aimed at the teenage girl market, but there are no comparable publications, as far as I am aware, for teenage boys. Perhaps that gap in the market could be filled by a responsible publisher. If a lifestyle magazine could be produced that was attractive to teenage boys and acceptable to their parents, it might help reduce any curiosity that they might have in the grossly unsuitable publications that the Bill covers.

The Bill includes no reference to the complicity of the women pictured in the publications. They are not victims. Women who take part willingly in that sort of photographic or film session, and are paid for their services, must surely take responsibility for their involvement. Portraying women as objects of disrespect at best, and deserving of degradation, violence and utter contempt at worst, does a great disservice to other women who may suffer at the hands of husbands or partners who have been influenced by what they have seen in those publications.

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A clear definition of what constitutes pornography is needed to encompass that type of publication and those that the hon. Lady described, which I have not seen, in the Obscene Publications Act 1959, so that they are consigned to the top shelf, away from the reach and eyes of children. We do not need yet another Government office—we have far too many already.

The Bill is trying to do the right thing in the wrong way and I therefore oppose it.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business), and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas, Annette Brooke, Dr. Evan Harris, Lynda Waltho, Andrew Selous, Helen Goodman, Mr. Barry Sheerman, Peter Bottomley, Stephen Hammond, Mrs. Siân C. James, Ms Diane Abbott and Rosie Cooper.

Sexually Explicit Material (Regulation of Sale and Display)

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas accordingly presented a Bill to establish an Office for the Regulation of the Sale and Display of Sexually Explicit Material; to require the Office to regulate the sale and display of such material; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 October, and to be printed [Bill 200].

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Pensions Reform

[Relevant Document: Fifth Report from the Treasury Committee, Session 2005—06, HC 1074, on the design of a National Pension Savings Scheme and the role of financial services regulation.]

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

3.45 pm

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. John Hutton): I beg to move,

Last month’s White Paper set out the changes that we intend to make to our pensions system in the UK over the next few years. The reforms are radical and far-reaching, which they need to be if they are to succeed in addressing the fundamental demographic, social and economic challenges that we face. They take forward the main recommendations of the Pensions Commission, offering the prospect of a wide national consensus in the years ahead. That will be an essential ingredient if the reforms are to produce the effect for which they have been designed—allowing future generations to work and save for a long and healthy retirement.

The measures set out in the White Paper will make it easier for more people to save more for their retirement, which must be our fundamental objective. In return, the state pension will become more generous, simpler and fairer to women and carers, and there will be less means-testing. Because of our decisions about the state pension age, the state second pension and the future of the defined contribution rebate, the reforms are affordable in both the short term and the long term, which is an essential component of any sustainable reform package.

The reforms necessarily involve new and different responsibilities for taxpayers, employers, the pensions industry and individuals. Thanks to the work of the Pensions Commission and the national pensions debate, there is a large measure of support for the general principles behind the reforms.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way so early in his speech. Why are the reforms not affordable in 2010? And why should we believe that they will suddenly become affordable in 2012? The current Chancellor does not think that they are affordable in his foreseeable lifetime in either of the two top jobs.

Mr. Hutton: I shall address that point in a second, but that is not the view of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.

Our task is to forge a real and lasting consensus, both in the Chamber—I hope that it will include the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)—and across the country. We all know the importance of pensions to our constituents, and it is our responsibility to try to reach agreement on the pensions system to
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enable the people whom we represent to make future savings decisions with the confidence that those reforms will last between the generations.

It is right that the debate about pensions should continue—indeed, the White Paper encourages that process—and I look forward to the contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House to today’s debate.

Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): The Secretary of State has indicated that he wants to establish a consensus on the matter and hold discussions with the Opposition parties, but he has been quoted as saying that this is not a pick-and-choose package. Will he clarify which issues in the White Paper are open to amendment and discussion?

Mr. Hutton: I shall come on to that in a moment. The White Paper acknowledges that there are some issues, particularly to do with the introduction of personal accounts and the national pension savings scheme, on which some work remains to be done. If the hon. Gentleman is still attached to the citizens pension, perhaps he will explain where the billions of pounds of additional public expenditure will come from without the need for tax rises. Before he intervened, I was about to say that I want to make one thing absolutely clear: this is not a pick-and-choose menu, so we do not, by definition, have the luxury of cherry-picking.

The reforms are designed to lock together a framework that provides a sustainable, affordable solution and provides real benefits to all those who are saving for their retirement. Those such as the right hon. Member for Wokingham and the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws), who propose different solutions, need to explain to the public how they are going to be financed, what different outcomes they will produce and on what basis they will provide a better prospect for the consensus that we all desire than the proposals by Lord Turner and the Pensions Commission, which we are now taking forward.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): In terms of cost, does my right hon. Friend propose to redistribute the money that is spent on tax relief so that more of that funding goes to people on lower incomes? At present, 50 per cent. of that tax relief goes to those earning more than £50,000.

Mr. Hutton: No, I do not propose to bring such a proposal before the House, because, as my hon. Friend knows, I am not the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and those are matters entirely for him.

Sir John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West) (Con) rose—

Mr. Hutton: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, who has a special expertise in this subject.

Sir John Butterfill: On tax relief, will the right hon. Gentleman clarify the answer to the question that I asked him when he last made a statement? He said that the Government provide 1 per cent., the scheme member
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provides 4 per cent., and the employer provides 3 per cent. He may be understating the Government’s contribution, because presumably, in addition to the tax relief given to the saver, tax relief will be given to the employer who is contributing the 3 per cent., which is tax deductible. However, that is not clear from what the Government have said previously.

Mr. Hutton: I do not think that we are proposing any additional tax relief for employers. The hon. Gentleman gave me plenty of notice of that question, but I still may not have the answer that he is looking for. I will ensure that he gets it during the course of the debate.

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hutton: I will give way once more, but then I want to make progress because there is a time limit on Back-Bench contributions.

Mr. Weir: The right hon. Gentleman says that tax relief is a matter for the Chancellor, but surely it is fundamental in considering all the options open to us in dealing with pensions. If he is ruling out any change in tax relief, he is tying our hands behind our backs before we even start to discuss the pension problem.

Mr. Hutton: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Chancellor keeps all taxation issues under regular review. When this matter was considered in the course of the Pensions Commission’s work, it decided not to make any recommendations, at least in part because of the complexity of the system. However, those are matters for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. Taken as a whole, the measures that we propose in the White Paper are affordable and sustainable over the long term because we have not been prepared to avoid making those difficult decisions.

Lynne Jones: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hutton: No, because I have given way to my hon. Friend already.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): Has my right hon. Friend received recommendations from the National Pensioners Convention and others about the fact that while the change of direction is welcome, it is very much jam tomorrow, while nothing is done for today’s pensioners, many of whom still live on very low incomes?

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