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Column 878Lady will recognise, however, that we are consulting on some of the recommendations and awaiting a reaction from the councils and social work departments involved. It may therefore be a few weeks before we can publish a clear and coherent list.
I acknowledge the importance of what the hon. Lady has said about training. Knowledge and practice in relation to child care have advanced considerably in recent years and are still advancing. It is very much our purpose to ensure that the quality of training improves and advances to take account of new information and understanding as that becomes apparent.
Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North) : Can the Secretary of State assure me that a central element in the deliberations arising from the reports will be the question of burden of proof? I ask that because I believe that the public do not always understand that the burden of proof required in order to act to protect a child is, of necessity, much lower than the burden of proof required to prosecute one or more alleged abusers of children. Because that confusion exists in the public mind, it is often thought that, because the burden of proof required to protect a child is lower it somehow diminishes the necessity to protect children or belittles the social workers who act on that lower proof.
It is essential that we define that difference and ensure that it is propagated as widely as possible so that the public understand the difficulties under which social workers act, and that, when they act to protect children, there may not of necessity be a criminal prosecution against one or more individuals. Unless that is done, I am afraid that social workers will be caught once again between the devil and the deep blue sea and, in the long run, will be unable to win whether or not they take children into protection.
Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. Our purpose in seeking to improve the quality of training and the interaction of the different bodies in their handling of such matters in future is to minimise the risk of a wrong decision being taken and to strengthen the possibility that the decisions taken in future will be well founded and right. That would narrow the difference that the hon. Gentleman discerns.
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : Does the Secretary of State agree that the very difficult decision for social workers of reconciling the rights of parents with the safety of children is made infinitely more difficult by the sensationalism of certain sections of the media, not just in Orkney but also in Ayrshire, where social workers were harassed by the media at their homes in the early hours of the morning? How does the Secretary of State intend to grasp that nettle?
recommendations on the rights of parents, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Very close consideration must be given to those rights to ensure that the minimum is done to cause difficulties in families in cases in which it subsequently transpires that there was total innocence.
Column 879to innocent parents. Will the House send the message today to every child who is suffering abuse that the House is determined to ensure that that terrible crime will not be tolerated and that all the judiciary should understand that there is never any excuse for abusing children?
Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) : I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
British Coal's actions at the Taff Merthyr colliery, which are in breach of the assurances given by the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary of State for Wales to the House on 21 October. In the debate last Wednesday, two Cabinet Ministers, and indeed the Prime Minister at Question Time today, gave categoric assurances that no action would be taken to prejudice the outcome of the genuine consultations that should take place under the 90-day statutory procedure relating to the 10 pits. Taff Merthyr colliery was one of those pits. But last Friday, British Coal announced that it was stopping all coal production. Indeed, as men were receiving the news, lorryloads of shale started arriving at the colliery site with the sole purpose of filling in the shaft. Such an action makes a mockery of two Cabinet Ministers' assurances to the House.
Over the weekend, the National Union of Mineworkers and the local lodge commissioned a senior mining engineer to produce a report. It was completed yesterday afternoon, and I delivered that report to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry's office yesterday evening.
The report by that senior mining engineer states that, unless British Coal continues to produce coal, the one face of this pit, the roadways leading to it and the machinery will be speedily and fatally damaged. Thus, British Coal's decision not to produce any more coal again makes nonsense of the Minister's assurances to the House. The report demonstrates also that, if the colliery continued to coal and men continued to have jobs and worked, even during the 90-day period, it could make up to £3 million profit, instead of spending nearly £500,000 a week allowing men to remain idle.
Earlier today, I am glad to say, I received at least modest comfort from a message from the President of the Board of Trade's office that British Coal has now agreed not to send any more lorries of shale. But, as yet, it has not met the other fundamental requirement identified in the mining engineer's report--that we need to continue to produce coal at Taff Merthyr colliery in order that assurances by Ministers are upheld.
The pressure of parliamentary debates last week and the assurances that were obtained during those parliamentary debates led to the commitment to genuine consultation for those 10 pits. I therefore ask you, Madam Speaker, at least to allow a further debate so that we can expose British Coal's shabby, indecent, hasty actions to close Taff Merthyr prematurely.
Madam Speaker : I have listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) said. I have to give my decision, as he knows, without stating any reasons. I am afraid that I do not consider that the matter that he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20 and I therefore cannot submit the application to the House.
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Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth) : The specific nature of this request for a debate arises from the virtual obliteration of any jobs for my constituents in what were once three thriving mining villages, Havercroft, Hiendley and Ryhill. I was notified last night by constituents that the management of Grimethorpe are setting up salvage teams to perform work which will essentially destroy the fabric of the pit, rendering resumption of coal mining there impossible. The men are also being told that, unless they take their compulsory voluntary redundancy this Friday, their redundancy pay will be reckoned from the 13th of this month. In other words, they will be paid at a considerably lower rate and will lose considerable sums should redundancies come about.
I have talked to the Minister for Energy about this matter, and he has promised to intervene personally with the management at Grimethorpe. But even so, unless urgent action is taken, the pit will be closed, against the wishes of the House and against the stated intention of the President of the Board of Trade.
On Monday, the salvage team will go down to dismantle machinery. It will be the death of a pit, in spite of the promise by the President of the Board of Trade in the House. Moreover, in spite of what the President said, that pit, in association with Houghton main colliery, made a profit of £223,000 last week. Scarcely any of that profit was made from the electricity supply industry. The factories and plants that receive coal from Grimethorpe have been put in an impossible position. They are compelled to contract to buy foreign coal, which is £1 a tonne dearer. How does that help the balance of payments, or for that matter inflation?
The President of the Board of Trade must come to the House urgently. He must join in debate, and put Grimethrope and the other nine pits back on the list with the 21. Otherwise, we shall know that the consequences for Grimethorpe colliery will be a foregone conclusion.
However, more important than the pit that will close are the three communities that will be devastated and the 500 families who face a bleak future--the 1,500 men, women and children whose Christmas sacks will come not from Father Christmas but from British Coal. I beg you, Madam Speaker, to let Parliament speak up for the three communities which urgently and importantly do not want to see almost half of their men on the dole, but would rather see them toil in dignity.
Madam Speaker : Yet again, I have listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) has said. As he knows, I must give a decision to the House without giving reasons. I do not consider that the matter that he raised is appropriate for discussions under standing order No. 20 and therefore I cannot submit his application to the House.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I rise to ask for your assistance and guidance about a difficulty that has arisen, which involves both a Standing Committee and a Select Committee of the House. The difficulty has arisen inadvertently, but nevertheless it exists.
Tomorrow, European Standing Committee B is to consider a motion from the Government on a European Community document on cultural goods, and the Standing Committee is to be asked to endorse the Government's policy on that matter. Last Thursday, the National Heritage Select Committee decided to conduct a speedy inquiry into the matter. If the Standing Committee makes its decisions tomorrow, the inquiry by the Select Committee will be rendered otiose and the Standing Committee will not have available to it the report of the Select Committee. It is intended that the report will be completed and made available to the House speedily, bearing in mind that the Internal Market Council of the European Community is to consider the matter on 10 November.
There is a further difficulty in connection with the document. There are two European Community documents which, although they have been distributed to some members of the Standing Committee, are not available to all members of the Standing Committee. The documents have not been deposited and are therefore not available to members of the Select Committee or to the House in general. That being so, it seems to me and to several right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House that advantage will be gained if the Standing Committee can defer its consideration of the document for a few days, to enable the document to be made available to the House and to enable the Select Committee to deliver its report.
Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, South) : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether you could give me guidance. If it is not possible to defer consideration of the document, as the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) suggested, and if the meeting takes place, the motion is passed and the Select Committee then makes an adverse report, perhaps even producing new information, would it be in order under Standing Order No. 20 for such a matter to be raised to enable a Select Committee report to be considered? I do not ask you to rule about the merits of the argument, but would it be procedurally possible to ask, under Standing Order No. 20, for a debate to take place in the light of the decision that has been made, but clearly should not have been?
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) rose --
Dr. Godman : Yes, it is on the same matter. Speaking as a member of European Standing Committee B, I feel that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has raised a valid objection to the meeting of my Committee going ahead tomorrow. We have in the past complained about the late circulation of documents to hon. Members. In this case, I am one of those who received
Column 883his documents timeously, but nevertheless, I would not disagree with the request that the Committee be adjourned until next week or the week after.
Madam Speaker : Order. I think that I have had enough points of order on this matter to enable me to deal with it. I understand the objections raised by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), but he knows as well as anyone in the House that Standing Committees have considerable autonomy. It is for the Chairman to decide to determine the business of the Committee and how it should be conducted, and when the Committee should issue reports. Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth) rose - -
It is not for the Speaker to interfere in the work of Standing Committees, and there would be a great deal of objection if any Speaker did so. The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) gave me a lot of supposition and hypotheses on which I cannot at this stage rule. I do not enter into what may happen if some eventuality takes place : the hon. Gentleman and the House would not expect me to do that.
Mr. Hardy : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am in no way challenging your ruling about the two Standing Order No. 20 applications, but will you consider a further aspect of the matter? On Friday, the information that I received from the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers led me to telephone the office of the Minister for Energy to draw attention to the failure of British Coal to ensure that the assurances given in this House, and in the other place by the noble Lord Wakeham, were implemented. I was told that those in the office would come back to me, and I am still waiting.
I know that you will have looked, Madam Speaker, at the assurances given to right hon. and hon. Members of this House, but the assurances given by the noble Lord in the other place were rather more generous and helpful than those given here.
In view of that, if you have a further application for a debate of this type, will you take into account the inaction of the Department of Energy in providing the information that I was entitled to seek? Secondly, will you ensure that the assurances given by the noble Lord in the other place are properly taken into account in your decision on these matters?
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I understand that you had to refuse the individual applications from my hon. Friends the Members for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) and for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) but if you put the two together, will you be able to consider that as a separate matter? If that strengthens the argument for a debate, I would be able to explain that the 4,500 mining jobs in my constituency that were lost in the 1980s have still not been replaced and that we have the highest level of unemployment in the country.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I apologise for not having given you notice of this point of order, particularly as I am a member of the Chairmen's Panel. Could you tell me and the House whether you might consider, under the procedure for a breach of parliamentary privilege, a letter sent out by a senior management executive of British Coal to staff of British Coal, which said--
Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is a long-standing Member, and I will advise him carefully. I cannot consider any privilege questions across the Floor of the House. I am aware of what the hon. Member is saying. If he will write to me about it, I will consider the matter and deal with it right away.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I call on you, as the defender of the rights of Back Benchers and as the final arbiter on the admissability of parliamentary questions, to rule on a point ?
Yesterday, during question time, I received an answer from the Solicitor- General that had no connection with the question that I had asked. That was not unusual. Unique about it was the fact that the Solicitor-General said that there was no connection, and in reply to a supplementary question from me, he said :
"That is the answer to the question that the hon. Gentleman should have asked".--[ Official Report, 26 October 1992 ; Vol. 212, col. 770.]
That is an indication of the arrogance and petulance of Ministers. They are now determining the questions we should ask. That seems to represent an extension of the powers of the executive and a denial of the rights and privileges of Back Benchers.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have listened carefully to your remarks responding to the requests concerning the two collieries in Wales and Yorkshire. I appreciate that you are not expected to reveal the reasons behind your rulings. Indeed, I have listened for the past 22 years to other occupants of the Chair saying precisely that. I do not suppose that we shall resolve that mystery today.
I fear that we are reaching a sorry pass when some of my hon. Friends are continually referring to the fact that various Ministers have made categoric statements about those 10 pits and we have reason to doubt the accuracy of those statements. We are not supposed to call Ministers liars or to say that they are deliberately misleading the House. Despite that, we are drawn to the conclusion that events are a lot like that.
I am glad to tell you, Madam Speaker, that there is a way out of the problem. The Government have scheduled for next Wednesday a debate on Maastricht, although they are as yet uncertain about the type of motion to table. My proposed solution would solve not only your difficulty but that of the Government, who should withdraw the
Column 885Maastricht debate and agree to our debating those 10 pits. That might enable us to save those pits and put the Ministers concerned on the line. They would then have to answer for what they have said in recent days. We might at the same time save several thousand miners' jobs.
I urge that negotiations take place immediately through the usual channels. The Government have got themselves into a big hole. The whole problem could be resolved in the way I have described.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(3) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).
That the Customs Duties (ECSC) (Amendment No. 8) Order 1992 (S.I., 1992, No. 2623) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990 (Modification) Order 1992 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Firearms Acts (Amendment) Regulations 1992 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Europe Agreement establishing an Association between the European Communities and their Member States and the Republic of Hungary) Order 1992 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Europe Agreement establishing an Association between the European Communities and their Member States and the Republic of Poland) Order 1992 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Arbuthnot.]
Question agreed to.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Obscene Publications Act 1959.
I raise a subject of considerable concern to hon. Members in all parts of the House and to millions of people throughout the country. The unprecedented national concern is vividly illustrated by a petition signed by over 350,000 people which I shall be formally presenting to the House later today on behalf of the National Viewers and Listeners Association.
The current obscenity laws are not working properly. The Secretary of State called them "unsatisfactory" and the Minister of State described them as "inadequate." The right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) and the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and many others have called for action now to remove deficiencies in the law. I shall show why the Government must take that action. My Bill will set that process in train, requiring areas for reform to be identified.
The law in the United Kingdom on obscenity and pornography is a patchwork quilt of provisions. We have different statutes dealing, for example, with broadcasting, videos, films, the theatre, sex shops and child pornography. This patchwork quilt of provisions is overlaid with a blanket called the Obscene Publications Act 1959, which started life as a ten-minute rule Bill introduced by the then Roy Jenkins.
That measure is designed as a catch-all, defining the content of material which can be held to be obscene. The police use the 1959 Act to control the most severe kinds of material such as videos, child pornography and films. For some of those, other statutes are already in place. But for other kinds of material, the 1959 Act is the only statute that can be used. For example, it is the only restriction on the sale of books and magazines.
So it is clear that the 1959 Act is the keystone in the legislative arch of our obscenity and pornography law. The problem is that not only is the arch shaky and incomplete, but as a keystone, it is fundamentally loose. The source of that weakness lies essentially with the discredited "tendency to deprave and corrupt" test. That test is fast becoming impossible to prove and the authorities are reluctant to prosecute cases involving even the most extreme material, such as de Sade's "Juliette." The Government readily acknowledge the problem, so it is not tenable for them not to take action. It is the job of a caring Government, however difficult the task, to protect society and set sound standards. It is not the job of a private Member.
Hon. Members may recall the evil and vicious murder of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon common, and I am glad to see in his place supporting me the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox). The psychologists employed by the police investigating that murder believe that the man who carried out that brutal killing was addicted to reading pornography. It is clear that the Government must act. Only this month we have seen the sad spectacle of Madonna, a confused and perverted woman, making millions by linking sex with violence in a way which
Column 887normalises that link and so puts decent women at risk. Ten years ago that could not have happened, but society's standards are slipping year by year as familiarity with pornography erodes our contempt of it.
Valerie Howarth of the now sadly impoverished Childline, which receives thousands of calls, reports :
"Many distressed children say they are shown pornography and are asked to perform similar acts."
It is fortuitious that I should be moving my Bill so soon after the statement on child abuse that was made to the House earlier. Tim Harding, director of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, says :
"Pornography is used to entice other youngsters into child sex abuse."
That is irrefutable evidence of the link between child pornography and the sex abuse of children. Superintendent Hames, head of New Scotland Yard's obscene publications squad, has called for tougher laws to enable him to fight what he calls
"a rising tide of child pornography."
He goes on :
"The vast majority of murderers, serial rapists and child molesters indulge in pornography."
I want their oxygen of depraved violent pornography cut off, and I make no apology for the imagery that I use.
If more evidence is needed, we can examine the situation in Oklahoma city, which clamped down on pornography in 1984. Since then, the crime of rape against women has fallen by over 20 per cent., whereas in the rest of the state, the pornography laws having remained unchanged, the incidence of rape increased by 20 per cent. We must fight to protect society from evil monsters who purvey pornography for profit. We must join my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms. Lynne) in denouncing sick people who claim that the mutilation, torture and murder of children and women for sexual gratification can somehow be acceptable as art or literature. That is not freedom of expression. It is rubbish.
For those who think that I am faint hearted, may I quote my gallant and hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), who said : "I spent about 15 years in the Army. I may have seen more pornography in barrack rooms than most hon. Members, and I can promise my hon. Friend that I have never seen anything in my life so depraved, disgusting and repulsive as this book."--[ Official Report, 2 July 1992 ; Vol. 210, c. 1068.]
The book was de Sade's "Juliette", which remains legal in our shops today. The Director of Public Prosecutions said that he could not proceed against that book. I want hon. Members to join me today to give the DPP the tools to do the job. My hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) told us of her "revulsion and horror" at the book which, disgracefully, is even available in prison libraries as recreational reading for perverts and convicted sex offenders. How daft and irresponsible can we get? The Home Office must act on that now.
Column 888Scotland Yard called for action because the law is unworkable. Let us be clear about the fact that policemen and women were not saying, "The police don't want to enforce this law--it's in a muddle so get rid of it." On the contrary, the policy must see and deal with the victims of sexual attacks that are depicted and described in pornography. Those police officers are saying, "Please, please give us a law that works. We want to tackle the problem and get rid of that evil."
The Bill would require the Government formally to review the operation of all the legislation in that area and would bring forward provisions for the Government to change the law. It is, therefore, a paving Bill--quite fashionable these days. It encourages the Government to suggest alternative routes for reform, perhaps in a Criminal Justice Bill, with a free vote for the House. I am sure that all parties would co-operate closely and scrutinise such legislation.
The forefeiture of pornographic items, which dropped from more than 1 million in the early 1980s to 800,000 in 1987, was down to only 5, 000 in the first six months of 1992. That is a drop to only 1 per cent. of previous forfeiture achievements in just one decade. Standards are slipping. The Bill would reveal such statistics and enable the House to monitor the police's ability to enforce the law. It would allow the House to consider new types of pornography such as so-called "education sex videos", European Community satellite broadcasts like "Red Hot Dutch" and new computer-based pornography.
By granting permission to introduce the Bill, the House will be demonstrating our demand for a properly conducted review of the law. We shall be saying that the Government should give clear leadership on that issue of deep public concern, listen carefully to the views of relevant parties, and regulate, monitor and report on the operation of the Obscene Publications Act 1959.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill order to be brought in by Dr. Robert Spink, Mrs. Ann Winterton, Mr. Michael Alison, Mr. Michael Stephen, Rev. Martin Smyth, Mrs. Margaret Ewing, Mr. Mark Wolfson, Mr. Donald Anderson, Mr. Andrew Robathan, Dame Peggy Fenner, Mr. Win Griffiths, Ms. Liz Lynne, Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman.