Let 16-year-olds visit sex shops and see explicit porn, say Lib Dems

Youngsters aged 16 and 17 should have the right to watch and appear in explicit pornography, the Liberal Democrats decided yesterday.

Youngsters aged 16 and 17 should have the right to watch and appear in explicit pornography, the Liberal Democrats decided yesterday.

The proposed relaxation in the law was agreed by a huge majority at the party's spring conference in Southport, despite pleas from one of its most prominent MPs, the work and pensions spokesman, Steve Webb, who argued for keeping the present age limit of 18.

The vote also commits the party to campaigning for teenagers from 16 upwards to be allowed to visit sex shops, which would be made easier to set up and run. The party's culture spokesman, Don Foster, said that it was inconsistent to allow 16-year-olds to have children, and be treated as adults in other respects, but to bar them from watching or taking part in explicit material - which they could access, anyway, from the internet.

Mr Foster rejected what he called "misleading claims" that young people become violent just from watching violent images.

He described 16- and 17-year-olds as "living in a twilight zone between childhood and adulthood", gaining different rights at different ages.

Mr Foster said that bestiality, "snuff" movies and depictions of rape would continue to be illegal, and that the law should continue to protect those under 16. He also argued for laws against material that degraded women, and for protecting employees from exploitation.

But Professor Webb retorted: "The question we should be asking is not whether the most mature 16-year-old can deal with the most explicit material.

"The question is whether the least mature 16-year-old can deal with the most explicit material."

He also suggested that if 16-year-olds had access to "the most violent, the most degrading" material then their 15-year-old classmates would see it as well.

The vote was condemned by the Conservative Party co-chairman, Dr Liam Fox, who said: "This irresponsible policy is likely to lead to the exploitation of young people and it adds to the many ridiculous policies the Liberal Democrats have dreamed up over recent years.

"With all the problems facing Britain, the Liberal Democrats have once again chosen to focus on the absurd and the obscure, and their muddled approach reveals them to be sad and irrelevant."

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