Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Dudley Friend Clayson

I write as an independent & individual contributor of evidence to this Inquiry.

I am the retired Chief Executive of a company supplying UK industry with packaging machinery & consumables. My wife is a retired doctor. Our evidence will cover the following issues:

How our family has taken the initiative in safeguarding against the danger of our children accessing pornographic material online.

How members of our church have coped with this danger and cared for those who have been mentally and morally damaged by it.

Measures that Government should put in place to ensure that minors are seriously protected from accessing pornographic material.

Regulatory initiatives which OFCOM should take to regulate & police social media which are currently responsible for a significant volume of material totally inappropriate for exposure to minors.

The internet industry must unite to develop technology to prevent the covert proliferation of such material amongst minors.

1. How did we cope? My wife & I raised our family of four children without a computer in our home. As practising Christians we could not, with a good conscience, expose our children to the possibility of coming in contact with the poison of adult pornographic material, which is morally destructive in its consequences and “utterly without redeeming social value” (1966 Supreme Court ruling in the obscenity case re. Fanny Hill, defining pornographic material).

2. Our children are now married, and have their own families. Both they and we all now have computers in our homes which are effectively filtered to eliminate any possibility of inadvertent contact with adult material by anyone in the household.

3. Implicit in this Inquiry is the Government’s acknowledgement that the exposure of minors to adult material is harmful. Such exposure entails grave consequences for the child, the family and for society at large. We are now seeing the social norms & stabilising values which have underpinned our customary way of life in this country being threatened by the emergence of a juvenile generation whose attitudes in respect of sexual gratification, sexual crime, violence, promiscuity and marriage are being distorted & perverted by exposure to online pornography. Sadly we have had some first-hand experience of damage to just a very few of the young people in our church who have temporarily had contact with this depraved material. It has required ongoing pastoral care & counselling to help them to get through the moral distress and mental disturbance resulting from this exposure. Pornography leaves a scarring in the mind. We trust that the effects will be short-term; but for some it could be a lifelong trauma.

4. It is heartening to see that Government is working with internet providers to put in place measures which will effectively protect minors from easy & instant access to adult material. The Prime Minister himself has given an undertaking that pornography will be automatically blocked on new broadband internet accounts, leaving viewers with the option to remove the filter if they so decide. Mr Cameron has also made a commitment in respect of existing users: the principal internet providers will have an obligation to contact customers with an “unavoidable decision about whether or not to install family friendly content filters”. He has indicated this will happen by end-2014. OFCOM will be responsible for implementation of these measures. The Prime Minister has promised to take further action if, following these steps, there is evidence that children are still not being effectively protected. We welcome his robust stance on this issue, which will mean that the many parents who would like to be prompted or reminded will get that reminder and will be shown very clearly how to put on family friendly filters. This is a positive move and a valuable commitment at the highest level in Government.

5. OFCOM should prioritise regulation of social media, such as Facebook, and chatrooms, where the content is not infrequently pornographic. OFCOM must ensure that the regulation & monitoring of these sites are significantly upgraded, with mandatory training & compliance regimes put in place. Social media should be placed under specific obligation to delete offensive material swiftly whenever a viewer complaint is received. This is in essence a Health & Safety legislation issue and every other industry in which I have been active has been subject to the strictest compliance with HSE. The internet should be no exception.

6. OFCOM should recognise that social media are exploited by paedophiles, prostitutes and sex traffickers and should create an appropriately strong regulatory framework to block these criminal and anti-social abuses of the internet. OFCOM should also require social networking sites to implement effective & inescapable age verification checks to prevent minors accessing inappropriate material.

7. The internet industry should devote resources to develop technology to prevent the covert and currently uncontrollable circulation of adult material within minors’ peer groups (such as school friend communities).

In conclusion, we are grateful for this Inquiry. The current situation is dire, with a reported 81% of 14–16 year olds having already accessed pornographic material online. We believe that < 50% of UK families currently have family friendly content filters in their home computers. The Government’s commitments in response to this situation are encouraging. We and a wide circle of our friends in this country will be scrutinising progress and developments closely. We are very deeply concerned that the situation is rapidly brought under effective, ongoing control—for the sake of every young person and child in this country.

September 2013

Prepared 18th March 2014