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Anti-smut Baroness sent to solitary

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The likelihood that possession of extreme pornographic writings is about to become a crime dipped yesterday, as the Conservative Party officially distanced itself from a notion floated by one of its own peers.

This is a rebuff for Conservative peer Baroness O’Cathain, who thought up the idea – but anti-censorship campaigners will be watching the Lords very carefully this afternoon to see whether her proposal attracts even tacit support from Government or Opposition front benches.

Tory Justice spokesman Edward Garnier MP yesterday responded to the Baroness’ proposal by politely disowning her. "Lady O’Cathain’s amendment is her own and not put forward by the Conservative Front Bench Justice Team," he said. "She is not speaking for the Conservative Party but, as she is perfectly entitled to do, as a Back Bencher well known for her interest in such issues."

He also pointed to his own statements in recent debate on Government proposals to criminalise the possession of "Dangerous Cartoons". He argued then that while the majority of the population might be revolted by some of the ideas depicted, the matter should continue to be dealt with as it is now: where any evidence of direct harm to individuals can be shown, the police should intervene.

Otherwise, the law should concern itself with policing publication and distribution: individuals who created cartoon images for their own use should not be criminalised. It would be undesirable to make simple possession a crime where no other harm can be shown to result.

This point of view is unlikely to find favour with Baroness O’Cathain, who has a fine track record of taking a "socially conservative" view on matters of sexuality.

She has spoken against gay adoption as well as IVF for lesbian couples. She is in favour of stricter rules to govern sex changes, worrying that some individuals may too easily rearrange their gender and then regret having done so.

In March 2007, she was arguing against an extension of civil partnership schemes to Northern Ireland on the grounds that there were "very few homosexual couples" in Northern Ireland.

(To be fair, she was also pointing out that the social and cultural background in Northern Ireland was different from the rest of the UK, and that this had previously been recognised in respect of laws relating to gay relationships.)

Those interested in following this issue more closely should tune in to the Lords at around 5pm today, when the Committee stage of the Coroners and Justice Bill moves on to debate the Baroness’ amendment.

El Reg spoke with Lib Dem Baroness Miller, who had previously opposed legislation on extreme pornographic pictures. She agreed that there was little appetite on the Tory side to extend the legislation in this way. However, she warned that the government was so far into "Daily Mail-pleasing" mode, that it was not impossible they might look favourably on this measure.

Also to look out for are any favourable noises emanating from the Opposition Front Benches.

Watch this space for further updates. ®

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