Magazine sex warning Bill loses support

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Political Correspondent

The Government has reluctantly decided to oppose an MP's bid to force publishers to carry age warnings on teenage magazines containing sexually explicit material.

Peter Luff, Tory MP for Worcester, got widespread parliamentary support last month for his Periodicals (Protection of Children) Bill, which would have required publishers to carry cover-page warnings about articles that might be unsuitable for readers below a certain age.

He told MPs that the letters pages in magazines such as Sugar, Mizz, It's Bliss, 19 and More! often degenerated into "squalid titillation, salaciousness and smut", using the the kind of language more usually associated with the walls of public lavatories.

But ministers have decided after what a source said was much "heartsearching" that it would be impossible to police and enforce the age ranges. Publishers and some MPs argued that the Bill could even be counter-productive, tempting youngsters to read magazines in a higher age range.

Mr Luff, parliamentary private secretary to the Lord Chancellor, put forward the measure under the 10-minute rule bill procedure after being shocked by the contents of his 10-year-old daughter's magazine, and had argued that an independent panel could decide on age certificates and hear complaints.

While the Government could have carved out the parliamentary time to enable the Bill to be passed, ministers have conceded that the only way forward is to persuade the magazine industry to police itself.

Following a meeting with Tom Sackville, the Home Office minister, editors and publishers have promised to draw up a voluntary code of practice to spell out in detail what sort of material is suitable for children of different ages. Critics argue that the effect of the code would do little more than ensure that articles spell out that sex under the age of 16 is illegal.

The question of the sexually explicit content of teenage magazine advice columns hit the headlines last November after TV Hits published advice to a 16-year-old on oral sex. Some retailers took the issue off the shelves after parents' complaints.