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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 March, 2004, 19:45 GMT
Sex banter livens up Lib Dem debate
by Jackie Storer
BBC News Online political staff

The terminology was enough to make the more faint-hearted Liberal Democrat choke on his or her cup of Earl Grey tea.

Talk of vibrators, orifices, sexual fantasies and brothels - not the usual stuff of party conferences - bounced off the walls of the Southport Theatre and Floral Hall Complex.

The Lib Dems' spring conference was debating the thorny issue of whether to give teenagers permission to watch dirty films and thumb through porn magazines when they reach 16.

The party's culture spokesman Don Foster argued that if people that age could have sex, get married and even have babies, why couldn't they watch a sexually explicit video?

'Horrible motion'

After all, "matters of taste should have no role in censorship", he said.

The reality is, sex is a very natural activity
Arnie Gibbons

His colleague Steve Webb had a slightly less liberal view - he worried that if 16 year olds got hold of this stuff, where would it stop?

He had visions of 13, 14 and 15 year olds being given a glimpse of what their older peers were now allowed to see.

Activist Lynne Ravenscroft, a former magistrate, went one stage further and urged the party to "reject this horrible motion".

She said after 23 years in the courts, passing judgement on many sexually explicit videos, she had concluded that pornography "is not about the enjoyment of sex, it's about denigration, it's about violence".

Human dignity

The hall fell silent as this bespectacled woman, wearing a bright pink top, green cardigan and black and white striped tights, warned about the fate of some of the stars.

Some were young girls abducted from Nepal, she said. Many ended up spending their time in Indian brothels dying of Aids.

"These are the people you will find on your pornographic videos ... what choice do they have?" she asked.

There was some applause when she stressed: "This is no policy for a mature political party that wants to take power at the next election.

This is no policy for a mature political party that wants to take power at the next election
Lynne Ravenscroft

"I thought we believed in protecting the rights and the dignity of all human beings!"

By this time, some delegates were loosening their collars, but there was no let-up in the sexual banter.

Arnie Gibbons, a balding councillor who represents part of the notorious red light district of Kings Cross, gave an almost tourist guide's view of the area, which he said, boasted two porn cinemas, saunas, private sex clubs, "at least one brothel" and a licensed sex shop.

"The reality is, sex is a very natural activity," he said, sagely. "Like the prohibition of alcohol in the US, banning it will not make it go away."

Among those to follow him was a 17-year-old youth, who promised his appeal for an age reduction was not about self interest.

Alison Goldsworthy, a former chair of the Lib Dems' youth wing and a prospective European parliamentary candidate, asked why some people believed smoking at 16 was less harmful than viewing porn.

However, Martin Turner, a 37-year-old lead guitarist "in a hard rock band", warned that 18 was the earliest people should be allowed to watch porn, otherwise it could end up making its way around the schools.

The activists, now immune to the debate's explicit nature, rejected that argument and decided 16 was a perfectly acceptable age for watching X-rated movies.

As the debate moved on to other weighty matters, including the pros and cons of euthanasia, some delegates left the auditorium, eager for a lungful of bracing, but fresh, Southport air.


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