HC Deb 22 July 1982 vol 28 cc524-5
11. Mr. Sainsbury

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will arrange to collect centrally information on convictions under the Obscene Publications Act 1959, as amended in 1964, relating wholly or mainly to video cassettes.

14. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if, in addition to his routine consideration of the operation of the law relating to video cassettes, he will take steps to set up a formal independent review with terms of reference which would allow the recommendation of additional legislation.

Mr. Raison

We understand from the Commissioner that the figures for the Metropolitan Police district for 1982 will identify separately prosecutions relating to video cassettes. We have no plans to extend such recording to other police forces in England and Wales.

We do not think that it is necessary to institute a formal review of the need for additional legislation in respect of video cassettes. We shall continue to keep the operation of the law under review in the light, among other matters, of the consideration which is currently being given to the introduction of a classification system.

Mr. Sainsbury

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the problem is not confined to London but has spread to areas such as Brighton and Hove? Will he agree with the Williams committee at least to the extent that pictures are much more dangerous in matters of obscenity and violence than the written word, and that a video cassette is infinitely more dangerous than a still picture? Bearing in mind the difficulty for the police in determining whether any given cassette is obscene and in breach of the law, does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be wise to extend monitoring throughout the country so that we can see whether the review of the law to which he referred, and for which I am grateful, should be followed by action?

Mr. Raison

I share the concern expressed by my hon. Friend about the sale and rental of video cassettes which show scenes of extreme violence and horror, and about the picture image. This is something that must be kept closely under observation, and if the need for additional information from other parts of the country becomes clear we shall certainly follow that up.

Dr. Summerskill

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Obscene Publications Act, which was last amended nearly 20 years ago, is now largely irrelevant to the booming new video cassette industry? Will he bear in mind that the Williams committee did not consider video cassettes, or even mention them in its report? Does he agree that a review of the law as it refers to video cassettes is urgently needed?

Mr. Raison

In addition to the Obscene Publications Act, Customs legislation, the Indecent Displays (Control) Act, the Local Government (Miscellaneous) Provisions Act and the Cinematograph (Amendment) Act may all have some bearing in this sphere. Therefore, there is substantial legislation. However, I agree that we must ensure that the legislation does its job effectively. If the classification system cannot be made to work we shall need to consider further legislation.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

May I press my right hon. Friend a shade further? Is he aware of the widespread concern about the harmful, if not extremely objectionable, nature of some video cassettes? Is he satisfied that the Home Office is fully aware of the production, distribution and availability of cassettes, particularly to children and young people?

Mr. Raison

I assure my hon. Friend that we are very much aware of the great anxiety that has been expressed about that, and in particular about the problems concerning the younger members of our community. It would be difficult for me to provide special regulations for the young, but this is something that we must look at in the light of the proposed classification system.

Mr. Spearing

Since the Minister has acknowledged that this is a problem, particularly in London, is he aware that the impression has gained ground, notably in my constituency, that the Metropolitan Police are taking, as yet, little action against these terrible machines and these video cassettes showing extreme violence? Will the Minister assure the House that the police are taking action? If he cannot do that, will he look into the matter and write to me?

Mr. Raison

I am sure that the problem is being taken seriously. I understand that the Director of Public Prosecutions is considering whether to institute proceedings under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 in respect of certain cassettes.