A short exchange in the Commons yesterday suggests that thought crime is now officially on the government’s agenda.
Labour MP George Howarth had something of a triumph at the committee stage of the Coroners and Justice Bill, when he famously observed, of a drawing scrawled on a piece of paper: "If somebody is in the process of arousing themselves sexually by that process, it must be part of something. In a lot of cases, it will be part of something that will lead on to something else."
Yesterday, he was on his feet during questions to Bridget Prentice MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Justice. He asked: “Does she agree that not only are images based on real children unacceptable, but so too are images that people use for these purposes that they have generated either from their own imagination or electronically?
"Will she give the House an assurance that her Department will not be going down the route of believing that those sorts of images are a matter for the individual concerned and their own conscience?"
Bridget Prentice replied: "I can absolutely give my right honourable Friend that assurance. He will have been as surprised as I was when in the Coroners and Justice Public Bill Committee the Opposition spokesman, the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr Garnier), said that he felt that our clause was, perhaps, over-egging the pudding.
"I do not for one minute think that taking action against these people in this way is over-egging the pudding. We need to protect our children."
In plain English, Edward Garnier’s amendment sought to criminalise the use of images where real harm took place, or where images were used for grooming.
Mr Howarth's slightly back-to-front comment would effectively criminalise imagination. He believes that what an individual imagines is not just a matter for their own conscience – but for the state as well.
Scariest of all, a government Minister appears to agree with him. ®