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My worry is that the wording of the Bill is still much too vague and could cover all sorts of light, consensual and safe imagery which many people enjoy and practise and which at present is perfectly legal but which as a consequence of these clauses will certainly become illegal. In Committee, I finished by asking my noble friend a question. I did not get an answer on that occasion and I therefore put the same question to him now. As a new offence is being created by these clauses, what will be the position of people who have already downloaded material on to their computers that until now has not been illegal but henceforth will be? Will the possession of that be regarded as a criminal offence and, if it is, what advice are the Government offering to help people to get rid
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Lord Monson: My Lords, I had not originally intended to speak on this group of amendments but, as a libertarian, I feel that I must support them, as I support Amendment No. 87A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and others. A few years ago there was a very famous Italian film. I am afraid that I cannot remember the title. Some of your Lordships may remember it. It won awards all over the world and was highly acclaimed. It was set in Italy in a peasant community about 50 years ago and one of the scenes showed an adolescent farm lad relieving his frustrations with a donkey, standing on a box in the middle of the field in order to do so. I saw this in a large London cinema that was absolutely packed because the film was so highly acclaimed. The audience tittered, as you might expect, but nobody was at all shocked or offended. The Government will argue that the film was not produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal and, indeed, that is the case. But suppose that somebody was to download that scene from the film on to a DVD and play it over and over again for their rather peculiar sexual tastes. That would be odd, no doubt, but should they really go to prison for such a thing?
Lord Cobbold: My Lords, I totally support the point of view so eloquently expressed by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. This House in particular should work hard to preserve the human right to do what one wishes in ones own home that is not a threat to anyone else in the outside environment. I support this amendment and others coming.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I, too, support these amendments. Almost inevitably we are going to have to go through the process of deciding whether what is describedwhat is attempted to be definedis in fact effective at all. This is a preliminary attempt to do that. The far more important issue will be what we do about all these clauses. In my view, we need a far harder and deeper look at these issues than we are able to give them in this Bill. That is for the later part of the debate. In the mean time, we shall all be interested to hear what is said. I share everybodys view that, if what is going on in ones own bedroom is legal, so long as it is not frightening the horsesor whatever phrase you want to useit may even be doing some good, but we can discuss that later.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I do not like pornography. I was never allowed to read Juvenals satires as a child. Child pornography is abhorrent and is rightly censured throughout the world. But I cannot see the point of Clause 63 and subsequent clauses and I do not understand why the House is being troubled with them.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, judgment tends to go out of the window when we deal with matters in this area. I recall many years ago prosecuting a lady in Caernarfon Crown Court for the murder of
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What is this provision in the Bill about? Is it an attempt to punish people for having extreme pornography in their possession or is it an attempt to discourage the commission of acts that we might disapprove of and are contained within the extreme pornography? If you cannot sell a picture or a film or a video, presumably the thinking is that there is no point in such acts taking place in the first place. One has this dilemma: if those acts are not criminal in themselvesa matter to which my noble friend Lady Miller and other noble Lords referredpunishing a person for having pictures of them seems rather silly.
That is what these amendments are about. That is why we on these Benches seek to put into the clause a condition that the act that is shown is criminal. If it is not criminalif it is consensualwhere is the harm? One has to be clear about what one is seeking to punish. What is the motivation? Is it distaste for people watching pornographic films or is it an attempt to discourage illegal conduct? We would go along with an attempt to discourage illegal conduct but not with an attempt to discourage consensual sex that takes place between two people in whatever form it may be. I share the distaste for pornography expressed by many noble Lords. As a classical scholar, I fully understood the depths of obscenity to which the noble Earl descended. I do not see that that is any reason for maintaining this clause in its current state. I respectfully urge on your Lordships that the amendment be accepted.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said in her introductory remarks that she accepts some of the spirit behind the Governments legislative proposals, but clearly there is concern about the way in which they have been drafted. I very much understand the point made by my noble friend Lord McIntosh, to whom it is a great pleasure to respond. He spoke of being aware of legislation that seeks to intrude too much into the individual lives of people where, as he said, harm is not caused to others. I very much understand the concerns expressed by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, said that it is all right unless it frightens the horses. I do not know about the horses, but the material that I saw at Charing Cross police station certainly frightened me.
While I accept all the concerns expressed by noble Lords tonight, I would also put the other point of view, which is that there is large and genuine public concern about extreme pornographic material, particularly since the growth of the internet, which has allowed existing controls on publication distribution under the Obscene Publications Act to be circumvented. There is also concern about the adverse influence that that material might have on those watching it. It is not simply material that potentially causes arousal. The tests that have to be applied are, I suggest, high tests. There are three elements that have to be met for someone to be found guilty of the new offence. First, material has to be pornographic; then, it has to be concerned with extreme acts, which are described as threatening a persons life or as resulting or being likely to result in,
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, the Minister said that, when he went down to the Charing Cross station, some of the material that he saw certainly succeeded in frightening him. Would he go beyond that and say that it affected him in a manner where he felt that he might commit violence following on from viewing those acts? If I understand the Governments rapid evidence assessmentit was, as we know from the Committee stage, a highly contested exercisethere was conflicting and contested evidence as to whether simply viewing some of these acts would lead anyone to go out and violently commit those acts themselves against people.
Secondly, the Minister comes to the tests. He uses the words graphic and realistic. Does he accept that much of the material is produced by consenting adultsmuch of it may well have consensual acts in its productionand may comprise a great deal of acting? Would he not agree that in acting one may project an image that is threatening or violent, or whatever, in order to be fantastical, and that that is perfectly fine in areas of art? It is rather odd that he uses such tests in this area and says that these tests therefore have a high threshold. Drama is, indeed, about simulating death and many other things. Might the Minister be able to explain that?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I was trying to explain that there are three elements to the offence. In our two debates, noble Lords have quoted or
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The noble Baroness asked whether, having viewed these images at Charing Cross police station a couple of weeks ago, I then felt violent or that I would indulge in some offence. I actually felt very sick, because they were pretty disgusting images, and I frankly find it horrific that they are available and that people can see them. I am sorry, but I do not take this very liberal approach of If it does no harm to the people taking part, why should we worry about it? I do worry about it, and about the access that people have to that kind of disgusting material. I am afraid that is my position.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, were the acts that the Minister saw in those videos in themselves illegal? That question has been asked frequently in this debate. Were the people doing these thingsand I concede that they were obviously disgustingdoing disgusting legal things or disgusting illegal things?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I think that the answer is that some would be covered by offences in this country and some would not, but they were all disgusting. I suspect that we will, in the end, have to come to a value judgment on this matter. Frankly, I want to discuss why the Government would have difficulty with the amendments, and the House will then no doubt want to take a decision on that vieweither today or at another stage.
Clearly, the effect of the amendments that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has put forward is to add an additional element to the offence; namely, that the image concerned depicts an actual sexual offence. In order to come within the terms of the offence, an image would have to depict a specified extreme act in an explicit and realistic way. As a consequence, only graphic and convincing scenes would be caught. To go further than that and to require that the image is a record of a sexual offence being carried out would make the clauses more or less inoperable for two reasons. First, the issue with most extreme pornography is not that a sexual or any other offence may or may not have been committed. As I said, much of the material that I saw, which has been found by the Metropolitan Police, might be prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, but would not satisfy a test that a sexual offence had been committed. The proposed amendment would render the offence inapplicable in respect of such material. I do not run away from this because the point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in his intervention. We are targeting that material not on account of offences which may or may not have been committed in the production of the material, but because the material itself, which depicts extreme violence and often appears to be non-consensual, is to be deplored.
Secondly, the other problem is that if there were a suspicion that a sexual offence had taken place, that would be pursued by applying the existing criminal law here. However, it is far more likely to have been
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The noble Baroness has tabled amendments in the second group that would remove the offence altogether. The advice that I have received is that the amendments in this group would create almost the same impact. Amendment No. 86PA would create a new defence applicable where the defendant reasonably believed that no one portrayed in the image concerned was coerced. I am aware that the noble Lord has concerns about individuals who keep a record of themselves freely and willingly participating in bondage, domination, submission and sado-masochistic practices in which no unlawful harm occurs. I recognise that it would be anomalous for a person to be committing an offence by possessing an image of an act which he undertook perfectly lawfully. We intend to introduce at Third Reading a defence which addresses precisely that situation.
Noble Lords will have to apply a value judgment to this issue. I take them back to the elements of the offence. This is not intended to catch the kind of art to which noble Lords have referred. The three elements of the test ensure that it is only this extremely nasty pornography that in no circumstances could be counted as art, which will be covered. As a society we have a duty to protect people. It is appalling that this material is available and we have to do something about it.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I thank those who have spoken, particularly the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, who set a tone of bravery for this debate, which is to be applauded. I am surprised that the Minister did not make anything of the Governments attempt, with its rapid evidence assessment, to link this violent pornography, as he did in Committee, with the fact that people were then more likely to commit criminal acts. Pushing this was one of the Governments weakest suits, so perhaps it is not altogether surprising that he did not refer to it this time. In the debate we have just had, the issue of whether we are talking about violence or sexual arousal is still confused. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester was useful in Committee when he applauded the Governments attempt to get to grips with this issue, but shared a feeling with the rest of us that things are not right. I cannot find his exact quote at the moment.
My brief experience in your Lordships House tells me that this number of amendments linked together usually means that the legislation is in difficulty. That is still where we are. The Government have two things going on here. One is that they have a rapid evidence assessment that they used originally, in Committee, to back up their argument that people must be prosecuted
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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. That is the point that she was just coming to. We are talking here about extreme pornography. I extend a warm welcome to noble Lords to view this material and see what we are talking about. It is important that we understand that.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, if we followed the Ministers invitation we would have to experience every single thing that we legislate about in this House. That is not a principle that we have ever tried to follow, although maybe we should.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, the noble Baroness says that it is reasonable but the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, who agreed with my amendments, went to Charing Cross to view it and still comes to the same view. If that is the feeling of the House, perhaps we should all see the material before Third Reading, but I do not think that we will change our view. The Governments contention is that by viewing it people are more likely to commit violent offences. Therefore, they justify walking into peoples bedrooms and turning them into criminals simply for viewing something.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, can I finish my point? I am sorry to provoke the Minister so much, but that is dangerous ground, and the Minister is in danger of leading his Government into becoming the thought police.
There is no direct connection with committing a crime. If the Minister was able to concede that we should tie it in to the Sexual Offences Act, which he is resisting, or the Obscene Publications Act, which he is resisting, I would feel far more sympathetic, but he is resisting all those connections. That is a great pity.
I will confine my final comments on the rapid evidence assessment to when we come to the clause stand part debate, and I will want to test the opinion of the House then. The Minister has not really answered
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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall not at this stage rehearse any of my earlier comments. However, as the Minister has not accepted any of my amendments in the last group, which would have substantially improved the Bill, or even conceded that the Government would come back with anything beyond the one issue he mentioned, I have no option but to move this amendment.
One substantial difficulty that I have had with the rapid evidence assessment that the Minister sent me between Committee and Report is that I discovered in reading it that an awful lot of the assessed evidence was produced before the internet was even widely available. Worse, however, is the fact that one of the assessors was one of those who wrote some of the research paper. That is particularly reprehensible. I have had communications with 40 academics, apart from the interest groups who obviously have an interest, who are deeply worried by the Governments position. Therefore, in light of the informed comments of your Lordships on the previous group of amendments and the failure of the Government to move anywhere on this, I beg to move.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am not sure whether the House wishes me to go over the ground again, or whether the noble Baroness wishes to test the opinion of the House. All I would say on the REA is that the noble Baroness will know that we think that its conclusion supports the existence of some harmful effects of extreme pornography on some of those who access it.
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