Reg Bailey: Mothers’ Union boss says he is ‘terrified by what violent images do to our children’s minds’

Reg Bailey, the man who advises No 10 on childhood, tells Chris Green that despite progress we still have a way to go to protect our young

It is perhaps an unusual thing for the Government’s top adviser on childhood to say. Having spent a large portion of his August holiday looking after his six-year-old grandson, Reg Bailey jokes that he is “very tired” and glad to get back to the relative quiet of the office.

But Bailey, 64, has good reason to be cheerful. He spoke to The Independent shortly after listening to David Cameron, announce in a central London speech that online music videos will begin to carry cinema-style age ratings from October.

Bailey’s influential Government-commissioned report “Letting Children Be Children” first suggested the measure in 2011 and he was involved in the creation of the pilot project with YouTube and Vevo, an initiative he describes as “really good news”.

The offices of the Mothers’ Union, where Bailey has been chief executive for 15 years, are only a short walk from the Houses of Parliament and it is clear that he remains close to Mr Cameron, who has often spoken candidly about the difficulties of raising children and his own efforts to control his family’s “screen time”.

Bailey has his own views on this, saying that too often British parents let “screens take over” instead of speaking to their children. “We are certainly one of the heaviest users of screen-time – hours in front of the screen,” he said.


He is satisfied at the progress made on most of his review’s recommendations, such as opt-in internet filters, although he adds that parents still bear ultimate responsibility for what their children encountered online.

Other proposals, such as a child-friendly code of conduct for retailers have also had an impact. “Thongs for six-year-olds have simply disappeared,” he says.

But he is convinced that the Government can go further in making shops appeal to families, and has a bold suggestion for rewarding outlets that do so – one that he previously discussed with Mr Cameron’s former director of strategy, the bike-riding blue-sky-thinker Steve Hilton.

“One of the steps I’d still like to see is the idea of having a ‘family friendly’ sticker that you could award stores,” he says, pointing out that such as scheme could work in the same way as the green “scores on the doors” stickers given to restaurants and fast food outlets by the Food Standards Agency, which inform customers about their hygiene practices.

“You’d give them to the people who really thought about clothing, retail and so on. I talked a lot to Hilton about it when he was active in No 10. It was one of the ideas I tossed around with him, but it was a question of working out who’d administer it and what it would cost. I still think there’s an argument for making family-friendly retail space, because we all spend a lot of time in shops.”

Bailey’s review also recommended that so-called “lads mags” be moved to the top shelf or given modesty covers so they are not on display to children. He says the big retailers were quick to co-operate, but smaller stores “didn’t get it for a long, long time”. Now, he says a similar argument could be made about some newspapers.

Asked whether publications such as The Sun and Daily Star which feature scantily-clad women on the front page should be moved to the top shelf, he replies: “I have come more round to that way of thinking. I have less concerns about Page 3 because you have to physically buy the paper, but where it is very graphically on the front page, I do.”

He argues the same should apply to newspapers which use violent images on their front page, giving the example of the now notorious picture of a seven-year-old boy holding up the severed head of Syrian soldier, which several newspapers used on their front pages.

“I’m terrified by what that’s saying to children about respecting your fellow humanity,” he says. “I know people are in the business of selling newspapers, but was that really necessary? Violence is a thing that shapes people’s attitudes.

“I’m not trying to censor what people see; I think it’s about where you see it and at what point. Newspapers are generally the first thing you tend to see in the aisle. If you buy the newspaper and it’s inside, that’s your choice – but if it’s on the front page even the people who aren’t going to buy it are seeing it. That’s the argument that was always made by parents about the lads mags: it’s not ‘I want them banned’, it’s ‘I don’t particularly want to see them when I go shopping’.”

Some might accuse Bailey of wanting to wrap children in cotton wool, but he says he is only in favour of “sensible precautions” – and he is in favour of lowering the voting age. He is pleased that 16 and 17-year-olds will have a say in next month’s Scottish independence referendum, believing that getting young people involved in politics can only be a good thing.

“I think the more you can engage children with thinking about the future and their role in civil society – the earlier the better,” he says. “Many people might say that young people are too immature to make up their own minds, but in my experience they are, if anything, more prepared to engage with those issues when they’re young. I quite like the idea of youngsters being enfranchised.”

So will David Cameron soon be making a speech announcing the arrival of top shelf newspapers, family friendly shop stickers or votes for 16-year-olds? Only time will tell – but if Reg Bailey is involved, it could be a wise bet.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own