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Indecent Displays (Newspapers)

Volume 131: debated on Wednesday 13 April 1988

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3.38 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make illegal the display of pictures of naked or partially naked women in sexually provocative poses in newspapers.

The purpose of the Bill is to remove from newspapers pictures of partially naked or naked women in sexually provocative poses and to make the publication of such pictures punishable with a fine relating to the newspaper's circulation. The proposal follows closely the principle of the Indecent Display (Control) Act 1981, which lays down that pictures that might legally be allowed in magazines cannot be put on public hoardings. I believe that the same argument should apply to newspapers.

I first introduced this Bill two years ago and you will recall, Mr. Speaker, that on that occasion the House—particularly a large rump of Conservative Members—misbehaved fairly grossly. With some Conservative support, we won the vote on that occasion, but the Bill failed because a succession of Conservative Members objected each time that it came up for Second Reading. They did not even have the guts to stand up and say who they were, but objected anonymously.

I seek to reintroduce the Bill, partly because of the overwhelming support that the proposal has received since it was introduced. I have received more than 5,000 letters, the overwhelming majority from women but a significant number from men, supporting the proposal. Some of the letters are very moving and distressing. I have received about 12 from women who have been raped and who say that when they were raped the men said that they reminded them of a woman on page 3 or that they ought to be on page 3.

I have received many letters from women who were sexually assaulted and who say that every time they are exposed to such pictures it reminds them of the assault and they find it extremely distressing. I have received hundreds of letters from women who speak about sitting on a bus or the tube or being at work and seeing men reading papers and making comments that offend them deeply. I have received letters from women who have had breasts removed because of cancer and who are deeply hurt when sometimes even their husbands buy newspapers and bring them into the home.

I have received hundreds of letters from teachers who talk about children being asked to bring newspapers into school to cover desks during art lessons. They talk of little boys of six and seven giggling and joking over the pictures, while the little girls do not know what to do. That is some indication of the way in which such newspapers are helping to shape attitudes in our society.

The last category of letters, and perhaps the most upsetting, are those from young women who were sexually abused as children and who talk about the way in which the man who abused them, often the father or a close relative, used such pictures and pornography to justify the sexual abuse.

The overwhelming majority of those who write argue that the pictures degrade women and portray them as sexual objects to be used and taken whenever men feel the need to do so. It is the overwhelming view of those who wrote to me, and it is also my view, that the mass circulation of these pictures—we are talking about 10 million every day of every week of every year and about twice that number of adults and large numbers of children who see them—helps to create a sexual culture that encourages sexual assaults on women and rape and sexual abuse of women and children.

The wide distribution of such pictures helps to legitimise the harder and nastier porn, the circulation of which is also growing rapidly in our society. Some of those who oppose my Bill argue that they have some sympathy for it but that it would be wrong to censor the press. I should like to address that argument. The British press is owned by a very small number of extremely rich men. It seems quite extraordinary to suggest that that small number of people can define freedom while the rest of us are not allowed to impose some constraints on what they print and circulate. Quite rightly, we have restrictions on material that excites racial hatred. We should also have restrictions on material that degrades women.

It is far from certain that the readers of these newspapers want the pictures. Every easy-to-read newspaper in Britain carries such pictures, but only one of them, The Star, has ever consulted its readers. The majority of those who bought the paper and responded to the poll said that they wanted the pictures to be removed. The last time that I introduced my Bill it was followed by a campaign in one of our lowest level newspapers, the Sun, which wanted to stop "crazy Clare" from introducing the Bill. Readers were asked to send for car stickers and to write using Freepost to say how they objected to the Bill. Ever since that time the Sun has refused to tell anyone how many stickers were circulated and how many people wrote in.

A small number of dirty-minded newspaper owners and editors who despise their readers think that they have to serve up such material in order to sell some of their nasty politics. It is not the wish of the people who buy the newspapers that such material should be widely circulated in our society.

I hope very much that the House will overwhelmingly support this measure. I do not pretend that it will prevent all sexual attacks on women or stop the degradation of women. However, it would be one big step in that direction, and the House should be united in supporting it.

3.45 pm

This is an intolerant measure and is typical of the authoritarianism we have seen in the modern Labour party. In this I have some sympathy with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), because I am beginning to understand what he is saying about this trait in the modern Labour party.

This measure sits ill with the Opposition's criticisms about the censorship of the press, the authoritarian attitude of Government Members or the Government's attitude towards the press. I hope that Opposition Members will think carefully about that before they vote on this measure.

What upsets Opposition Members is that this matter is about choice. It is about the choice exercised freely every day by millions of people. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) has admitted, millions of people in this country exercise their choice freely to purchase newspapers and to look, among other things, at whatever may be displayed in them.

Perhaps more importantly, it is about the choice made by the young ladies themselves as to whether they display themselves in the newspapers. I wonder what it is that the hon. Member for Ladywood finds so objectionable about adult young ladies deciding whether they will exploit the audience for those newspapers. She has talked about the exploitation of them, but I wonder whether she had considered how successfully young ladies choose to display for profit whatever assets they possess and benefit and exploit the male population of this country. It may well be that she wishes to protect the wrong people.

What distinction is made between the honourable place of the nude in the history of art and sculpture and the portrayal—[Interruption.]

For the benefit of the House I will name the sculpture "The Kiss" by Rodin, which is generally accepted as a great work of art and which portrays two naked people in an embrace.

Why is it that the prurient minds of Opposition Members see unclad young ladies as being disgusting? [Interruption.]

Order. I am listening with great interest to what is being said, but I cannot hear properly if there are interruptions from below the Gangway.

I would cite further the works of Titian or Reubens and many other great artists who have portrayed through the centuries ladies in various stages of undress whose pictures have been regarded as art.

The Bill is defective in its detail—[Interruption.] I do not know why Opposition Members are afraid to hear the argument. Perhaps they are embarrassed by what their hon. Friend is proposing.

Order. All I can hear from below the Gangway is some chant about a painting. This Bill is about displays in newspapers.

The measure is defective in its detail because the hon. Member for Ladywood failed to tell us who will define what is meant by "partially clad". Who decides between clad, partially clad or unclad? More importantly, and perhaps more relevant, what is a sexually provocative pose? Perhaps the hon. Lady can identify or knows a sexually provocative pose when she sees one, but I do not know whether she expects the readers, editors or publishers of the newspapers so to do. She has not described in the Bill where the responsibility for the identification of "partially clad" or "sexually provocative" will lie.

This is a grossly irresponsible and defective measure, and, for all those reasons, I hope that the House will reject it. It is intolerant and impractical and flies in the face of the freely exercised choice of most people in this country.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at Commencement of Public Business):

The House divided: Ayes 163, Noes 48.

Division No. 252]

[3.50 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms DianeFoster, Derek
Allen, GrahamFraser, John
Alton, DavidGalbraith, Sam
Ashton, JoeGarrett, John (Norwich South)
Banks, Tony (Newharn NW)Gould, Bryan
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Graham, Thomas
Barron, KevinGrant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Beckett, MargaretGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Beggs, RoyGrocott, Bruce
Beith, A. J.Hardy, Peter
Bell, StuartHattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Benn, Rt Hon TonyHaynes, Frank
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Heffer, Eric S.
Bidwell, SydneyHenderson, Doug
Boyes, RolandHinchliffe, David
Bradley, KeithHogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardHome Robertson, John
Bray, Dr JeremyHood, Jimmy
Brazier, JulianHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Brown, Gordon (Decline E)Hoyle, Doug
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Buckley, George J.Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Butler, ChrisIllsley, Eric
Caborn, RichardJanner, Greville
Callaghan, JimJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Kilfedder, James
Campbell-Savours, D. N.Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Canavan, DennisKirkwood, Archy
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Lambie, David
Clay, BobLamond, James
Iceland, DavidLeighton, Ron
Cohen, HarryLewis, Terry
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Litherland, Robert
Corbyn, JeremyLivingstone, Ken
Cormack, PatrickLivsey, Richard
Cousins, JimLofthouse, Geoffrey
Crowther, StanLoyden, Eddie
Cummings, JohnMcAllion, John
Cunliffe, LawrenceMcAvoy, Thomas
Dalyell, TamMcCartney, lan
Darling, AlistairMcFall, John
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Dobson, FrankMcKelvey, William
Doran, FrankMadden, Max
Duffy, A. E. P.Mahon, Mrs Alice
Dunnachie, JimmyMarek, Dr John
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs GwynethMarlow, Tony
Eadie, AlexanderMartin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Eastham, KenMartlew, Eric
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)Maxton, John
Fatchett, DerekMeacher, Michael
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Michael, Alun
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Flynn, PaulMichie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)Moonie, Dr Lewis

Morgan, RhodriSmith, C. (Islton & F bury)
Morley, ElliottSmith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Mowlam, MarjorieSpearing, Nigel
Mullin, ChrisSquire, Robin
Nellist, DaveStrang, Gavin
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)Straw, Jack
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonTapsell, Sir Peter
O'Brien, WilliamTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Orme, Rt Hon StanleyThomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
Parry, RobertTurner, Dennis
Patchett, TerryVaz, Keith
Pike, Peter L.Wall, Pat
Radice, GilesWallace, James
Redmond, MartinWareing, Robert N.
Rhodes James, RobertWelsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Rooker, JeffWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Widdecombe, Ann
Rossi, Sir HughWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Rowlands, TedWilson, Brian
Ruddock, JoanWinnick, David
Sedgemore, BrianWorthington, Tony
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)Tellers for the Ayes:
Short, ClareMrs. Ann Clwyd, and
Skinner, DennisMs. Jo Richardson.
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)

NOES

Adley, RobertHeathcoat-Amory, David
Alexander, RichardHicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Holt, Richard
Atkinson, DavidJessel, Toby
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Johnston, Sir Russell
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyJones, Robert B (Herts W)
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnKirkhope, Timothy
Blackburn, Dr John G.Lawrence, Ivan
Brittan, Rt Hon LeonMacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Budgen, NicholasMoate, Roger
Butterfill, JohnOppenheim, Phillip
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)F'aice, James
Carttiss, MichaelRedwood, John
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Riddick, Graham
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Shaw, David (Dover)
Couchman, JamesShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Day, StephenStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Emery, Sir PeterTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Farr, Sir JohnTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Fearn, RonaldWarren, Kenneth
Fox, Sir MarcusWhitney, Ray
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesWiggin, Jerry
Gow, Ian
Gregory, ConalTellers for the Noes:
Grylls, MichaelMr. Eric Forth and
Haselhurst, AlanMr. Jerry Hayes.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Ms. Clare Short, Ms. Jo Richardson, Mrs. Margaret Beckett, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mrs. Ann Clwyd, Mr. John Battle, Mr. Bill Michie, Mrs. Ann Taylor, Mrs. Margaret Ewing, Ms. Diane Abbott, Ms. Marjorie Mowlam and Miss Emma Nicholson.

Indecent Displays (Newspapers)

Ms. Clare Short accordingly presented a Bill to make illegal the display of pictures of naked or partially naked women in sexually provocative poses in newspapers: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon 6 May and to be printed. [Bill 140.]