Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 3rd March 2008.

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Photo of The Bishop of Chester The Bishop of Chester Bishop 4:45 pm, 3rd March 2008

I want to offer some general support to the Government for what they are attempting to do with these clauses. To bring pressure to bear in our society on the extraordinary explosion of what we might generally call pornographic images seems to me to be laudable and right. I share the view of those who have already spoken in this debate that to address the issues as set out here seems to beg as many questions they answer. This relates to the whole Bill and it seems to me that whenever there is a criminal justice Bill before Parliament all manner of things get added in, things which need rather careful discussion and joined-up thinking on how they relate one to another.

I notice that the Government have withdrawn certain proposals about prostitution, which is right. That whole area requires profound consideration about what should and should not be legal in our society. Personally, I would welcome the thought that for a man to solicit sex from a woman or to pay for it ought, prima facie, to be a criminal offence. However, it is surrounded by so many questions that only through the most detailed and careful consideration can good law be made.

I happen to think the same about blasphemy, to which we shall come, I believe, on Wednesday. I support what is being proposed, but I think it interrelates with other issues in our society and it is not really suitable to be put in. I would welcome a thorough look at the whole issue of what pornography is and its impact on our society. Clause 113(3), as amended by Amendment No. 122B, would state:

"An image is 'pornographic' if it is of such a nature that it must reasonably be assumed to have been produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal".

You can see that when you go into many newsagents in our society and look not just at the top shelf but at almost any shelf these days. Many of the soft porn films seem to have been produced precisely for that purpose.

The last thing we want to do is to produce an aura where everyone is a potential criminal. In one sense, we are and we need to acknowledge that, but that produces very negative reactions in the population. One can instance all sorts of ways in which that is the case. This whole area needs very careful examination not least in terms of whether there is any link between what is published and broadcast and crime. There are definitely imitative patterns of behaviour. There are the awful tragedies of the suicides in south Wales at the moment which is an illustration of how images can be created, as it were, and behaviour follows those images and is repeated. Sexual arousal is simply part and parcel of the whole of the creative world. When one looks at David Attenborough's series "Life on Earth", one sees that much of the depiction of the way in which the creative world operates is tied in with the reality of sexual arousal—let us be honest about it. If we are going to produce laws in this sort of area, they must carefully define what they are attempting to criminalise.

The clauses also seem to move between issues of violence and issues of pornography and sexual arousal. I know that they can often be linked, but I tend to think that they are often rather different. I think, from my own perspective, of the Christian faith, which has a violent image right at its heart: that of somebody being nailed to a cross. There are ways in which you could find portrayals of central features of the Christian faith covered by these clauses. Some people find them offensive; indeed, in one sense they are. There is such a deep subjectivity here that these things need careful consideration.

While I applaud the Government's attempt to get to grips with this issue, I share a feeling that things are not right. My brief experience in your Lordships' House tells me that this number of amendments linked together usually means that the legislation is in difficulty.