Thatcher wanted to ban sex toys using anti-pornography laws after pressure from campaigners

The former prime minister was encouraged to change the law by campaigner Mary Whitehouse

Ben Tufft
Tuesday 30 December 2014 12:15
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The UK sex-toy industry is now worth £250m a year
The UK sex-toy industry is now worth £250m a year

Margaret Thatcher considered banning sex toys using an anti-pornography law as part of a drive to clean up public decency in the 1980s.

Documents released by the National Archives reveal that the former prime minister was persuaded to consider a change in the law by the anti-obscenity campaigner Mary Whitehouse, whom she met on two occasions.

Leon Brittan, the home secretary at the time, wrote to Mrs Thatcher noting that there was a “strong case” to be made for banning sex toys under obscenity laws.

In September 1986 he wrote: “Some of the items in circulation are most objectionable, including some which can cause physical injury,” according to a report in The Times.

He felt that sex toys could fall within the scope of the "deprave and corrupt" test of the 1959 Obscene Publications Act.

The act was used to prosecute the publisher of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence, in the famous trial that scandalised the public in 1960.

But Thatcher wanted to tighten the law, after Mrs Whitehouse pressed for perceived public immorality to be challenged.

The Iron Lady asked her home secretary to prepare a new test, which could set a new bar for what could be considered to offend good taste or public decency.

Lord Brittan felt that taste was too imprecise a concept for the courts to be able to arbitrate on and the plan was abandoned.

The news comes weeks after the Government implemented a controversial ban on certain sex acts in British-made online pornography that were deemed morally damaging and dangerous.

Campaigners criticised the law, claiming it was an assault on civil liberties and the Government was attempting to interfere in people’s bedrooms.

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