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In the Gambling Act, Parliament made it compulsory for all online gambling sites to devise methods of determining the age of everyone who came on to the sites. Such provisions came into force in 2007 and seem to be working well. Specialist companies carry out verifications. Online retailers of age-restricted goods and services should have effective systems in place to prevent underage sales. The law does not sanction underage sales but the law is being manipulated. Companies should be providing online and effective ID checks in order to screen underage people.
It is easily possible for children who are under age to purchase from the internet. A 14 year-old boy was recently, in a test case, able to buy a prepaid card with cash at a local store. Card retailers say that their cards can be sold only to people who are aged over 18, but the boy was not questioned about his age. He bought pornographic videos from Amazon and knives from Tesco; they were delivered to his home and personally signed for. Oddbins delivered some vodka to his home and he was able to bet on a football match online. In the light of such temptation and excitement, I wonder how influential the school curriculum might have been, or might be. No, the law needs to step in.
I saw recently in the press that Microsoft and Tesco were joining forces to start marketing and selling videos and films over the internet. Apparently they are going to be sold as downloadable items. We will no doubt see more of this kind of thing happening. Any product that is capable of being digitalised will be digitalised and will be sold online. TV programmes, advertisements and games are already available. Perhaps I may remind Tesco and Microsoft, as other companies have been reminded before, that many of these items are the subject of legally prescribed age limits. If companies cannot satisfy themselves that they can sell these items legally over the internet, then, frankly, they should not be selling them at all.
I mentioned the gambling industry. Under the Gambling Act 2005, having a robust online age verification system in place became a condition of obtaining a licence to provide gambling services online. Perhaps we should have the same condition for all services online-that is, any company that wishes to sell age-restricted goods online should obtain a licence, which would confirm that they had taken all reasonable steps to ensure that the law was not being broken. That is precisely what my Private Member's Bill sought to do. I still hope that the Government will adopt the principles of my Bill and ensure that it becomes enshrined in legislation.
Children need protection from age-restricted online sales. They also need education about the media. Does the Minister sympathise with this, and do the Government have plans to improve child internet safety as well as encouraging the teaching of skills to resist pressure?
Lord Addington: My Lords, my noble friend's debate is one which we feel we have covered before; but we have never covered it before from quite this angle. There is always a danger when preparing for such debates that you will go back to nurse-to the way it was done before. When I heard that this debate was about the influence of the media, I immediately thought about the old argument, which was only a small part of my noble friend's argument, about acceptable ways of presenting information on the body to children and how it will influence them. The reason I thought that is probably down to an extremely good joke-which I think I heard on "The News Quiz", though I am not quite sure who the comic was-at the expense of one Karl Lagerfeld, who apparently said that size 0 models are attractive and sell more. As the comic pointed out, Karl Lagerfeld might not be the best person to say
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What are you trying to do with the image? What will your body be used for? I always approach such questions from the sportsman's angle and the fact that there is no "perfect male body". However, there are perfect male bodies for doing various types of sports and functions. Females, who are in the ascendant in number here, will probably have their own idea of the most pleasant body to look at. However, the perfect body to be a middle-distance runner is not the same as the perfect body to be a front rower in a rugby scrum, a basketball player or a gymnast. Reports talk about the model's image, but it is actually the marketing man's idea. This is where the enhancements that my noble friend talked about come in.
Size 14 is the normal female shape. The sportsman side of me says and the sports fascist says:
"Get out there and get running and all become size 12".
Is that realistic? What is the balance between encouraging somebody to be healthier and to achieve something that is realistic? We must look at how we are going to achieve it. Greater education in the true sense of the phrase is probably a very strong aspect of it. Examining how we get into this argument is another example. There is aesthetics and there is use of your body. Do we actually promote the marketing of physical activity? That is a very old argument which I have gone back to far too often in this House. It was described to me once that exercise is the wonder drug for the National Health Service. How are we going to encourage people to take exercise that suits their body, that they will enjoy, that they will be successful at: exercise that not only suits their physical characteristics but also their mental ones? A huge education pack comes into this field.
If you regard your body merely as something to be displayed or as an ideal that should be displayed, you cut out far more people from looking at it. There will be one image. The fashion industry takes most of the pounding here but it may not be the only example. How do we approach this? How do we get the education within the system? At school, it may be a case of intervening early enough to tell people that their bodies will all be different shapes and sizes. There is no perfect shape-you cannot be everything.
The male of the species gets a slightly easier deal here. As I understand it from some of the briefing I received, the model male effectively is the tall, thin person with the wide shoulders who does certain exercises and has muscles that stick out. The ideal is basically a smaller version of the heavy pumped up bodybuilder. You have to tell people that bodybuilders get this way only by stripping all the fluid out of their bodies. They can maintain this only for short periods of time to keep the muscle mass going and then they can display it only for a short time. They have stripped so much fluid out of their systems that they probably could not run a mile without dying-I have probably overstated the case. Still there is a price to pay.
If we can try to get the message across that you cannot have it all in terms of physical image we will take a step forward. We have got to try to address this
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We have to try to get a new approach. Merely protesting about it will not work. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, made a good point about new media and other images. It was a good attempt and a good approach to try to handle it. Also inherent in the argument is that there is only so much control we can bring in without being overly restrictive. We are always on this and the noble Baroness is taking her turn at balancing on a knife edge. You can slip either way. I applaud her courage totally and dread following it. What we have to do is try to get this balance right. The idea of educating to see there are right and wrong ways of doing things is important. However, we must not overplay it.
Are the video games referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, a worse example of what happens with violence than the black and white films of my childhood? Then if you were shot with a high calibre handgun you put your hand to your chest and went "oh they got me" and died without a murmur. What is a worse image of violence? What is a worse image of what it is about-the Sam Peckinpah blood and guts splashed everywhere or that? What encourages the use of violence as not having a downside? I do not think it is a discussion we have often enough. So if we take on the images and look at what is going on, we will probably be in a better state.
The current government campaign showing what knives actually do to people is good, as are the adverts shown later at night when we do not expect school pupils to be watching television. They show what happens if you get absolutely drunk on 14 pre-mixed cocktails and end up falling about on the way home. We have probably all seen the one showing the young girl. That is probably a better way of educating people and addressing the issues than just saying it is dreadful. We must address the world we are in.
We must also remember that when talking about the young, the impression given for as long as I can remember is that society is going to come to an end because the young are so appalling. I can recall the reaction to people with long hair, then people with short spiky hair, then people with floppy hair and very different clothes. They were all going to destroy society. They all had a go and they all failed. We may not like all the different bits of society, but they have always been there, and whether they are bigger or smaller is a matter for debate. I suggest that what is required is an ongoing process because there is no right answer, merely a right answer for the moment.
I return to the subject I started with. I have a couple of photographs of size zero models with me that I will not show because they would not appear in the record. They reflect what I call "concentration camp chic". If such a look is encouraged in the system, it has an effect on young girls, who are one of the most vulnerable groups. They need to be helped to get away from these impossible images that may even have been airbrushed
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Even a professional athlete becomes a figure of health only because he eats five meals a day, sleeps more than we would, trains harder and for longer, and has no social life for 10 to 15 years because he does not go out at night. We should let people know that there is always a price to pay. The rewards may justify that kind of life and we may applaud it, but often it is a place that only a few can reach.
Baroness Verma: My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, for introducing this important debate. As I was listening to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about size zero models, I was reminded of an article in the Guardian just before the last election. It said: "Sandy Verma, Tory poster girl". I thought to myself, "Wow, what a wonderful tribute". While the article horrified my children, it gave hope to every 40-plus, size 16-plus, 5 foot 3 inch-or-under woman in Great Britain. That is the point, I think, that the noble Lord was trying to make. However, I shall go back to my script now that I have got that off my chest.
It is undeniable that, rightly or wrongly and be it positive or negative, the media leave a lasting impression on our children and young people. With emerging media forms such as social networking, user-generated content, online communities and social worlds, online gaming and peer-to-peer file-sharing, new challenges and questions are posed. Half of these even I still do not understand, but not for a second should we underestimate the power and potential of these media for impressing both good and negative effects on our children and young people, as positive attitudes towards social integration, learning and education, cultural experience and identity formation are many of the skills that have been lost through the fracturing of our communities. It can be argued that through using the media actively, children and young people can be educated to recognise the potential risks and benefits in a safer environment.
However, concerns about the harmful effects of the media on children and young people are rarely absent from the headlines. The dangers from the internet are linked to sexual exposure, video games linked to violence, and magazines linked to emotional insecurities and illnesses such as anorexia in teenagers. These are but a few of the associated themes. It is vital that parents and schools both play their part in helping children to understand and utilise the positive benefits that can be achieved, yet ensuring that they hold firmly the levers of control in their hands so that where young people are not able to decipher the message through whatever medium they are exposed to in order to know what we think is acceptable, an adult can step in and take responsibility.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced his plans on internet safety becoming a compulsory part of the curriculum from next year for those over five. I should like a little more clarity on that announcement. First, what form will the plan take? Will it be a separate
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While internet safety is important, will the Government recognise that the seriousness of other forms of media and their influence on young people is equally important? What plans do the Government have to take action to address the problems identified by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, in magazines, for example? We wish to ensure that parents are at the forefront of these campaigns. It is first and foremost their duty to ensure that what their children and young people access is age-appropriate and provides positive information to make the right choices. It is crucial that along with schools, they are part of the solution and not just bystanders on government initiatives.
Although I support wholeheartedly efforts to improve our children and young people's safety, especially from the harmful effects of the media, I believe that this may not be the method to achieve such aims. Much thought needs to go into how action will manifest itself into reality. Our schools are already overstretched, often understaffed, and subject to ever-increasing demands. While we on these Benches appreciate the reasoning behind the teaching of media safety in schools, and the influences of the media on our children, surely the main focus of schools should be teaching core academic subjects and giving children the ability to develop critical thought processes so that they can decipher what is right and wrong through whatever exposure to media they receive.
We believe that giving more powers to schools, giving heads control over their budgets, with a less prescriptive national curriculum and freedom regarding who they employ, would allow them to do more to educate children about the influence of the media in the contextual needs of those individual schools. Given that many schools are still unable to reach the core skills required by the curriculum, we do not wish to distract them by handing them even more Whitehall diktats and directions. I look forward to the Minister's response because these questions are incredibly important, not just to us in the Chamber but to parents who will be listening to the debate carefully.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, for calling this debate today, and for the contributions which have been a pleasure to listen to. As others have said, I will not be able to do justice to all the points raised, or to those which should be responded to, in the time available, but I will write to noble Lords on those that I miss out.
I shall endeavour to provide a good overview of what work the Government are doing in response to these kinds of questions. We all agree that the media
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To make some general points, it does not do justice to this complex issue to have a polarised debate, which pits two extremes against each other. That is sometimes what happens on this subject outside the House. One view is to blame the media for the woes of society and casts children and young people as hapless victims while another argues that those same children and young people are sufficiently knowledgeable and media savvy to understand exactly how to respond to the wave of information and messages they encounter daily. It is not that simplistic. As ever, your Lordships' House is cognisant of that.
This does seem to me to be overly simplistic. There can be no doubt that access to the wide range of media now available can be hugely beneficial to our children, as the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said. It offers children important opportunities, for example in terms of entertainment, learning, creativity, cultural experiences and social networking. I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Howarth on this. There are great opportunities, but at the same time we need to recognise the risks, as my noble friend Lady Massey set out and as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said in her opening speech.
For example, new research that is to be published tomorrow, and has already been referred to, shows that 18 per cent of children said that their parents do not know what they do on the internet. This is an important issue. That is why the Prime Minister, who takes this very seriously, yesterday launched "Click Clever Click Safe", the UK's first internet safety strategy which sets out what we are collectively doing to keep children safe online. We believe this is the first strategy of its kind produced anywhere in the world, and it follows on, as noble Lords are aware, from the Byron review and the very comprehensive analysis that Tanya Byron made there.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas and Lady Verma, and of course my noble friend Lady Massey, asked about the Byron review and the Government's response. As I have said, "Click Clever Click Safe" was launched yesterday by the Prime Minister, but this came about because of the establishment of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety in response to Tanya Byron. This brings together government, industry and charities to take a comprehensive and partnership approach. Over 140 organisations and individuals have come together to help develop this strategy. In response to Tanya Byron's report, the Government have launched a major public awareness campaign which will come over the next two years, based on new research into what support parents and children are looking for. This is going to be a funding commitment of around £9 million to support the campaign on child safety, and includes a focus, as noble Lords will be pleased to hear, on issues like cyber-bullying.
Also in response to the Byron review, we have been working to give those who work with children, such as teachers, social-workers and childcare-workers, access to free, high-quality resources-for example, through the development of our Know IT All site for teaching materials, which is accessible through DCSF. These are very high-quality free teaching materials that will be available specifically for secondary teachers from March 2010.
Also, we have seen the launch of the Green Cross Code, "Zip it, Block it, Flag it". This has been developed with children and young people and of course builds on the work and expertise of CEOP. We hope that this will become, from a very early age, from primary school, as all-pervasive as "Stop, Look and Listen" was for the Green Cross Code when we were growing up.
The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, asked how we will know if any of this makes any difference. She is right to do that because what we have done through the UK strategy is to put some very tough evaluation measures in there, and we will be asking parents and children whether a difference has been made.
We will also be publishing soon the report from Professor David Buckingham on the impact of the commercial world on children and young people's well-being, together with the Government's response. I cannot anticipate that report too much, but I will make sure that noble Lords have sight of it as soon as it is out.
The first work we need to do is to support schools, as many noble Lords have said, and help them to enhance the media literacy of their pupils, to help them stay safe and enjoy the opportunities that both the old and new media have to offer. My noble friend Lord Howarth referred to media literacy extending beyond technical skills. He is right. I was interested in his comparison with the development of English literature. It can play an important role in helping children navigate their way through the media maze and to become critical evaluators of what is presented to them, not only in the media but otherwise in life, too. These life skills are important and we need to do much more work on that aspect of media literacy. It is core business for the education system.
The second area in which we need to do more is where, notwithstanding the considerable social change in recent decades, the ecology of families is such that parents are also key participants in their children's engagement with the media-and so they should be. We want to look at how best to help parents to guide their children to help them deal with the commercial messages transmitted via the old and the new media. Where children and young people display risk-taking behaviour such as my noble friend Lady Massey described, it is all the more important that we empower parents to act positively in the face of the internet and new media so that they can help young people-particularly teenagers-as they take risks in the online world. We will say more about this in the Green Paper on families that we will publish next year.
It is also important that the regulatory framework keeps pace with technical developments and the subsequent new media techniques that might be directed at children. Following public consultation on the guidelines for advertising through broadcast and non-broadcast
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The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, raised the question of body image. The Channel 4 programme "How to Look Good Naked" has been running an online petition calling for a body image confidence lesson to be included in the school curriculum. Personal, social, health and economic education already includes provision of information on how to lead healthy lifestyles and offers opportunities for young people to develop confidence on these issues. However, the Government announced recently their intention, which was widely welcomed in the House, to make PSHE part of the statutory national curriculum. Provisions to this effect have been included in the Bill currently in the other place.
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