HC Deb 06 July 1984 vol 63 cc618-20

Question again proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

11.32 am
Mr. Mellor

As I was saying before my elders and betters arrived in the Chamber, the amendments are to clause 7, which is one of the principal clauses. Therefore, it is perhaps worth while to detain the House for a moment or two to consider the implications of the amendments made in the other place, which my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) is right in asking the House to accept.

Clause 7 relates to the crucial issue of classification and labelling. It has been our intention throughout that, so far as possible, video recordings available in shops and other places should reflect on the face of the cassette cover the classifications commonly understood by the public from long experience of the cinema. The effect of clause 7 is to permit that to be the case.

It is no part of the Bill's intention, nor is it its effect, that anything that one might term part of mainstream cinema—by which I mean any film with a certificate up to the classification 18, which can be shown subject to the appropriate age restrictions in any cinema in the country — should be interfered with. It is our intention that those films should be available for viewing in the home. In some cases, when one is dealing with films with a 15 or 18 certficate, it will be for the parents to determine whether they are prepared to allow their children to see the film. Under the Bill it will not be lawful for a child under the age of 15 in respect of a 15 certificate, or under the age of 18 in respect of an 18 certificate, to go into a shop and obtain that video direct from the dealer.

It may be, as I have said before, that some of the outer edges of the 18 category will be affected on videos, but it is important to understand that that is a consequence, not of the Bill, but of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and that section of it which provides that the test of obscenity depends upon those likely to see the material. That may differ in accordance with whether the material is being shown in an age-segregated cinema, or in the home where no age restriction can apply and where children may come into contact with it.

Clause 7 provides that the designated authority must issue certificates, which are defined in subsection (2)(a), (b) and (c), to reflect those classification categories with which we are familiar in the cinema. Subsection (2)(a) provides for the general classifications with which we are all familiar of U, UC and PG. Paragraph (b) provides for an age restriction to be applied, and we have in mind age restrictions of 15 to 18. Paragraph (c) provides the restriction that no video recording containing certain works can be supplied on premises other than a licensed sex shop. That reflects a decision which was arrived at after a great deal of debate and discussion.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) smiles. I smile ruefully at the remembrance of it, but good came out of what was initially a squall which blew up between supporters of the Bill. We have reached an arrangement which we can all accept, which is that it should be for the designated authority to determine whether 18R videos should be made available and whether they come within the terms of the Obscence Publications Act. We are all agreed that the only outlet for that sort of material should be a licensed sex shop.

Clause 7(2)(a) deals with three certificates relating to children—U, UC and PG. We entered into some useful and helpful discussions——

Mr. Denis Howell

The hon. Gentleman used the phrase to which I took exception on an earlier occasion —a licensed sex shop. Will he confirm that a licensed shop is the appropriate description? It may or may not be a sex shop.

Mr. Mellor

The Bill refers to licensed sex shops. They will be licensed under the arrangements already laid down for sex shops.

After the Bill left this House, my officials and I started discussions with the BBFC. I had long discussions with Lord Harlech and my officials had talks with the secretary of the board, Mr. Ferman, about whether, as a result of an oversight in the drafting of the Bill, clause 7(2)(a) might not allow the board to continue to use the PG certificate.

A number of the most popular films of recent years, including "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and the James Bond films, have been PG films. It was important that there should be no doubt in this matter. It was never anyone's intention that there should be interference with the PG category, which is given to films which may be widely shown, but implies that a parent might wish to make up his or her own mind and offer guidance on whether the film was suitable for a particular child, even though it was thought generally safe to be seen by children and did not require an age restriction.

The worst thing would have been for the designation authority to start its arduous task of reclassifying the back catalogue of videos against a background of doubt about whether the traditional view of parental guidance was permitted under the Bill.

It was pointed out that the award of a certificate under clause 7(2)(a) might have been inadequate and that the Bill, as it left this House, might not have made it clear that the expression suitable for viewing by persons of any age is not the same as suitable for viewing by all persons", which was the original wording of clause 7(2)(a).

As a result of our discussions an amendment was passed in another place and I commend it to hon. Members because it does not alter the basic structure of the Bill, but makes it easier for us to achieve what we always intended to achieve, which is that the PG category, so well understood and widely accepted in cinemas, should continue to be available for videos. If the PG category could not be carried across into video shops, it would materially undermine one of the principal intentions of the Bill. It has always been the expressed aim of the Bill that people should understand what they are dealing with, and that background of understanding can be provided by their familiarity with cinema classifications.

The intention behind subsection (2)(b) is that restrictions should attach to the two age-restricted classifications with which we are familiar in the cinema —the 15 and 18 categories. It is well understood that when 15 or 18 category films are shown in cinemas it is not lawful for children under 15 or 18 to attend. Those restrictions are carried across into video shops by the Bill and carry penal sanctions if children under 15 or 18 obtain from dealers 15 or 18 category videos.

However, anxiety was expressed in another place about the fact that in allowing the reference to persons who have attained the age specified in the certificate, without restricting that age, subsection (2)(b) might have made it possible for someone to choose an age over 18 —whether 21, 35, 54 or some other age. That was not the intention of the Bill's supporters and, in deference to the strong arguments advanced by Lord McIntosh of Haringey, who most of us remember for his distinguished service as leader of the GLC for 24.5 seconds after the last GLC elections — before he was knifed by Mr. Livingstone — we have decided to accept the amendment.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos 14 to 33 agreed to.

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