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Online Pornography (Sentencing)

Volume 580: debated on Tuesday 6 May 2014

1. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of sentencing policy in tackling the problem of violent and extreme online pornography. (903839)

Offenders convicted of possession of extreme pornographic images, including violent pornographic images, face a custodial sentence of up to three years. Sentencing in individual cases is at the discretion of the courts. Although there are only a small number of convictions for that offence each year, I believe that it is effective in tackling the proliferation of these images.

Is not the problem that existing legislation on violent pornography has been too narrowly interpreted, with only 310 prosecutions in the past three years? Rape Crisis South London has said that there is evidence of the easy availability of serious sexual violence on rape porn sites. I know that the Government are about to ban realistic rape porn online, but not staged child rape scenes. Why not, as the Prime Minister promised, bring online and offline in line?

We agree with the hon. Lady’s underlying point that the current offence is too narrow. That is why we are legislating to extend the terms of the existing offence to criminalise the possession of images depicting rape and other non-consensual penetrative sexual activity. As she knows, we introduced provisions in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill to criminalise the possession of such images, and those provisions received broad cross-party support at the Commons Committee stage. I hope that she and those on the Opposition Front Bench will continue to welcome that.

When considering sentencing policy for those guilty of observing or engaging in violent behaviour, will the Minister reconsider the Department’s policy of moving violent offenders such as Michael Wheatley to open prisons like Standford Hill in Kent? He will be aware of a pattern of absconding that has taken place in Ford open prison in my constituency, including by Derek Passmore and Paul Flint, both of whom were convicted of murder, and one of whom had already absconded from an open prison.

I am sure that many Members across the House will share my hon. Friend’s concern about people absconding. As we have heard, the number of people absconding from open prisons has, of course, gone down, but I hope he is reassured that we are in the process of making the conditions for those sent to open prison tougher, both in qualifying to go to open prisons, and in the punishments received for breaking the terms.