Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Russell Hopwood

The concept of a criminal offence.

Parental responsibility.

Allowing access should be a criminal offence.

Investment—no expense should be spared.

The responsibility of Government, industry, parents, and children.

1. The CSM website states “it is a basic necessity the Children are safe from cruelty and harm no matter where they are, and that includes when they are on the internet”.

I would comment about this that it is a criminal offence to inflict cruelty and harm on children by whatever means. This must include making available material which they can access whether it be online or in shops or any other source. I was involved in representation to my local MP about explicit material being on view to minors in newsagents and other shops. I may say I had his full sympathy with my concern. It is my observation that we are battling with certain media in this connection. Online purveyors of filth need to be held responsible just as the media do. The prevention of access to minors is like trying to bolt the gate when the horse is at least half out.

2. To reinforce this point it is clear that teenagers are very clever at accessing material online, and the figure of 81% of 14–16 year olds who do, illustrates this. However hard we try to restrict access, and I am not saying we shouldn’t try, they will find ways of doing it. I am convinced much more needs to be done to prevent blatant filth being easily accessible. Having ten grandchildren myself, 15 and under, who have never accessed this sort of thing reinforces my belief that much comes down to parental protection and the environment the children are brought up in. It ought to be an offence for parents not to have filters in place, to say the very least. The principle of responsibility is a logical one in both these points.

3. The suggestion that we are restricting freedom of choice is as stated, a poor argument. It is an argument often heard in many areas of life. If I knew that there was a child-murderer in the neighbourhood I wouldn’t propagate the argument that people should be free to leave their doors unlocked on the ground of liberty, or if the plague was spreading in my neighbourhood I wouldn’t argue that people shouldn’t protect their children from it. Is there any difference between this and the spurious right to allow access to damaging material. It is not a right at all, it should be an offence to allow it or to promote it.

4. I would fully support any investment that might be necessary to protect children online. I cannot comment on what is suitable, I would leave that to others. All I would say, is that whatever the cost it would be a good investment. If we want our youth to grow up as good upright honest young people, no expense should be spared. If we want them to grow up deceitful, devious, violent, corrupted in heart and mind, let the forces of evil have free rein. What is so appalling is that much of the harmful input is commercially driven. We need to get at the root as well as the branch.

5. One of the comments is “we believe much more needs to be done by Government, industry, parents and young people as well”. Let us have a brief look at each of these.

Industry should take on the responsibility providing protection for young people. Let industry take on their share of the cost of protection, they can then roll the cost back to the paymasters whoever they may be—the sources of the evil material, the purveyors of it and the media. I am sure much more could be done to improve protection in terms of technological developments.

Government need to take on the responsibility of facilitating whatever legislation may be needed to enforce compliance. Let the politicians fully portray the horror of what is corrupting our youth. Let the legislators draft laws that will place the responsibility where it belongs. Let the Government see this as a battle against those who would undermine authority whether in the home or the schools.

Parents are primarily responsible for what comes into their homes and as suggested earlier should be held accountable for allowing access to harmful material. It is not intrusion into the privacy of the home any more than the need to investigate domestic violence would be.

Children become more responsible with age. As soon as they are old enough to distinguish between right and wrong they are to that extent responsible. Both parents and schools should be encouraged to promote a sense of responsibility. It could never be too young to do this.

Schools were not mentioned here, but I suggest we need a fresh look at what is taught in this connection. There are strong forces at work sweeping the western world to portray things as normal which arguably are the very opposite. The very least Government should do is give parents the right to opt out of lessons which they regard as weakening a healthy moral stance.

September 2013

Prepared 18th March 2014