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Volume 450: debated on Monday 9 October 2006

1. What recent discussions she has had with the newspaper and magazine industry on the display of pornographic material at the point of sale. (92565)

Officials from the Home Office, the Department of Trade and Industry and my Department met representatives of the publishers, wholesalers and retailers of magazines and newspapers earlier this year to discuss this issue. As a result, the trade associations issued guidelines reminding members of the need to exercise common sense in deciding how to display material intended for adults.

My hon. Friend will be aware that earlier this year I introduced a ten-minute Bill that called for a ban on the sale of sexually explicit material to children. Despite huge public support for that request, the response from WH Smith was to issue a notice that such material may still be displayed at 1.2 m, which is the height of the average seven-year-old. Given that the industry appears incapable of regulating itself, will my hon. Friend consider meeting me and child-centred agencies to talk about what we can do to prohibit the sale of such material to children?

First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing this important issue to the attention of the House? Both sides will agree that self-regulation is always preferable to Government regulation. We saw a good example of that with the video games industry two or three years ago. A problem was drawn to its attention and it responded by changing methods of classification and dealing with retailers. My Department is consulting on the issue that my hon. Friend rightly raises, and I hope that she and other hon. Members who wish to lobby on the issue will provide more evidence. It is appropriate to encourage the industry to self-regulate. I have now seen some of the content in question and it is clearly preposterous to suggest that placing the material at a height of 1.2 m is an adequate safeguard.

The definition of pornography is a grey area. One of the main publications that has given rise to concern is the Daily Star. Has the Minister had any discussions with the printing industry on whether the contents of that publication constitute pornography, because I am sure that most responsible newsagents would happily consign it to the top shelf?

We have not had specific discussions with the Daily Star—[Hon. Members: “Daily Sport.”] Indeed. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) has now given me a copy of the Daily Sport and I understand that hon. Members are interested in looking at it.

The material in some of the publications is the kind of stuff that one would expect to find, at best, on the top shelf and probably not in any newsagent. It is important that the House takes the matter seriously and that we consult on it. It is our ambition to achieve a resolution through self-regulation, but we would like the industry to take the issue as seriously as it merits.

I am interested in my hon. Friend’s comments and the slightly more open approach that he is now taking to the issue. In his consideration, will he take into account the fact that retailers and distributors of magazines have contractual arrangements under which more is paid to have magazines displayed at the most visible levels? It should therefore be straightforward to sort out which contracts are acceptable and which are not.

My hon. Friend makes a fair point and I hope that when we consult on this later this year she will bring forward any evidence that she has as part of that consultation.