UK House of Commons, Home Office Questions,2nd November 1998
Mr. Prior: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement, on the effectiveness of legislation relating to obscene publications.
Mr. Boateng: The Obscene Publications Act 1959, as amended, has shown itself capable of reflecting changing standards and of adapting to developments in technology. The Government are determined to ensure that the criminal law is effective in protecting people from harmful material and, with this in mind, keep the legislation under review.
Mr. Prior: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many people have been convicted under the Obscene Publications Act 1959, for publishing obscene literature, in the last year for which figures are available.
Mr. Boateng: Provisional data for 1997 show that 189 offenders were convicted in England and Wales under section 2 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 as amended by section 1(1) of the Obscene Publications Act 1964. Information on the type of obscene matter (book, magazine, Internet etc.) used for such an offence is not collected centrally.
Mr. Prior: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he is taking to prevent obscene publications from reaching young people.
Mr. Boateng: The Government are determined to protect young people from potentially obscene material by ensuring the effectiveness of the existing law.
All publications--including material available via the Internet--are subject to the Obscene Publications Act 1959, which makes it a criminal offence to publish an obscene article; that is, an article which in the view of the court has a tendency to 'deprave and corrupt' those likely to read, see or hear it. In the first instance, it is the responsibility of the police to decide whether there are sufficient grounds to launch a criminal investigation, and that of the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether to prosecute those alleged to be responsible for the publication.
In respect of material which is not potentially obscene but which may, nevertheless, be unsuitable for young people, the Government support non-statutory schemes, such as the voluntary Code of Practice under which newsagents refuse to sell 'adult' magazines to persons under the age of 18, and the Teenage Magazine Arbitration Panel which oversees a binding set of guidelines on how editors of teenage magazines should deal with sexual matters.
Mr. Prior: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the role of the police in investigating the publication of obscene literature.
Mr. Boateng: Under the Obscene Publications Act 1959, it is the responsibility of the police in individual cases to decide whether there are sufficient grounds to launch a criminal investigation, and that of the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether to prosecute those alleged to be responsible for the publication.
Under section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959, the police are also granted certain powers of search and seizure with respect to obscene articles.
Three police forces have units dedicated to the investigation of obscene publications: the Metropolitan Police Service; Greater Manchester police; and West Midlands police. These units investigate the production and distribution of pornography, including pornography on the Internet, supervise licensed and unlicensed sex shops, supervise divisional obscene publication cases and provide advice in relation to obscene publication matters to other forces. Police operations are increasingly targeting mail order and duplicating premises in order to tackle the problem at source.
Children's Literature (Classification)
Mr. Prior: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will establish a body to classify the suitability of literature for children in the same way as films are classified.
Mr. Boateng: The Government recognise the importance of protecting children from unsuitable material. The criminal law, booksellers, publishers and parents all have a part to play. The criminal law, through legislation such as the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act 1955, protects children from material which is likely to deprave or corrupt them. Responsible booksellers generally place children's books in a designated area within the store, thus reducing the possibility that children--or their carers--would seek to purchase age-unsuitable material. In addition, publishers of teenage magazines have developed a binding set of guidelines dealing with the portrayal of sexual matters. It is also a responsibility of parents to guide their children's reading and to guard against their exposure to unsuitable material.
The Government believe that this offers the best approach and that the establishment of a body to classify works of literature would be likely to pose immense practical problems, given the number of such works which are available and which are produced each year.
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