HC Deb 19 October 1994 vol 248 cc379-92

Lords amendment: No. 80, after clause 82, to insert the following new clause—

("Video recordings

.—(1) The following provisions of the Video Recordings Act 1984 (which create offences for which section 15(1) and (3) prescribe maximum fines of, in the case of sections 9 and 10, £20,000 and, in the case of other offences, level 5) shall be amended as follows.

(2) In section 9 (supplying videos of unclassified work), after subsection (2), there shall be inserted the following subsection—

"(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—

  1. (a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or a fine or both,
  2. (b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding £20,000 or both."

(3) In section 10 (possessing videos of unclassified work for supply), after subsection (2), there shall be inserted the following subsection—

"(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—

  1. (a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or a fine or both,
  2. (b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding £20,000 or both."

(4) In section 11 (supplying videos in breach of classification), after subsection (2), there shall be inserted the following subsection—

"(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or both."

(5) In section 12 (supplying videos in places other than licensed sex shops), after subsection (4), there shall be inserted the following subsection—

"(4A) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) or (3) above shall be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or both."

(6) In section 14 (supplying videos with false indication as to classification), after subsection (4), there shall be inserted the following subsection—

"(5) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) or (3) above shall be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or both."

(7) The amendments made by this section shall not apply to offences committed before this section comes into force.")

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Nicholas Baker)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

With this, it will be convenient to take Lords amendment No. 81, Lords amendment No. 82, Government amendments (a) and (b) thereto and Lords amendments Nos. 161, 177, 296 and 333.

Mr. Baker

Amendment No. 80 is designed to increase the penalties for offences under the Video Recordings Act 1984. At the moment, the most serious offence—supplying unclassified videos or possessing unclassified videos for supply under sections 9 and 10 respectively—can be tried only in the magistrates court, where someone who is convicted may receive a maximum penalty of a £20,000 fine. There is no imprisonment for the offences.

In the Government's view, those are serious offences and imprisonment should be available to the courts to deter those who would deliberately break the law. The amendment will therefore make those offences triable either way. That means that they will be able to be tried in the Crown court, where the maximum penalty will be two years in prison, or an unlimited fine, or both. If they are tried in the magistrates court, the amendment means that as well as the £20,000 fine, there will be the possibility of imprisonment for six months. The maximum penalties for most other offences under the Act are also increased.

Amendment No. 81 will strengthen the Video Recordings Act 1984 by narrowing the categories of video works that are exempt from classification by the British Board of Film Classification. The amendment will therefore add techniques likely to be useful in the commission of criminal offences to the list of matters that cannot be depicted to any significant extent in an exempted work. That will mean that, in future, video works containing instructions on bomb making, on violent unarmed combat or methods of breaking into cars or houses, which have caused concern, will no longer be exempt. They will require classification by the board.

The amendment will also exclude from exempt status videos that do not illustrate criminal techniques, but which depict criminal activity that is likely to encourage the commission of criminal offences. The amendment will also change the current subjective test of whether a work is designed to stimulate or encourage certain activities that may not be shown to a new objective test of whether the video work was likely to do so.

Amendment No. 82 for the first time lays down criteria that the designated video classification authority, the British Board of Film Classification, must consider in determining whether a particular video work is suitable for classification and, if so, which category it should be placed in. The criteria are whether any harm may be caused to potential viewers, or, through their behaviour, to society, by the manner in which the work deals with criminal behaviour, illegal drugs, violent behaviour or incidents, horrific behaviour or incidents, or human sexual activity. The criteria mean that the BBFC must consider who is, in fact, likely to see a particular video, regardless of the classification. So, if it knows that a particular video is likely to appeal to children and be seen by them regardless of its classification, it must take them into account as potential viewers. It is very important to bear it in mind that those statutory criteria are not intended to be exhaustive and the amendment states only that the board is to consider them among the other relevant factors". The board will, of course, remain free to take account of other factors such as bad taste, bad language or offensiveness towards particular groups. The amendment will also make a minor change to section 7 of the Video Recordings Act 1984, which describes the broad categories of video classification certificates that the British Board of Film Classification may issue.

10.15 pm

Amendment (b) to Lords amendment No. 82 flows originally from a commitment made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary when the Bill was last before the House. There was then a great deal of concern about the availability of unsuitable videos. In the light of that concern, the Home Secretary undertook to introduce an amendment in another place, which would set out in statute for the first time some of the criteria that the board would be required to take into account when determining whether a video work should be granted a classification certificate and, if so, what that certificate should be. [Interruption.] That is heartening news. Lords amendment No. 82 is what emerged as a result of that undertaking. It specifies in law the main criteria that the board should take into account when classifying videos.

Hon. Members will recall that there was also debate about whether it would be possible to provide for existing works to be reclassified in the light of the new statutory criteria. That point was also raised in the debate in the other place. The possibility of some limited review of classification decisions was also referred to by the Home Affairs Select Committee, under the chairmanship of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), in its recent report on video violence in young offenders, which was published in June. I should like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the careful consideration that the Home Affairs Select Committee gave in that study, and in its earlier report, to the challenges presented by rapidly developing technology.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has made plain from the beginning his sympathy with the idea that it should be possible to review the classification of works that have already been granted a certificate. However, he has been very anxious to avoid creating a system of wholesale review, which, for all sorts of practical reasons, would be unworkable. It was the Government's concern about the workability of a system which led my right hon. and learned Friend to move very cautiously in that area.

However, after consultation with the director of the board and the enforcement authorities, my right hon. and learned Friend now believes that it will be possible to meet the widely held concern that there should be some more limited system of review without at the same time creating unsurmountable problems. That is why my right hon. and learned Friend tabled amendment (b) to Lords amendment No. 82, which will enable him to lay an order establishing a system for reviewing works that have been classified before the introduction of the statutory criteria. The amendment creates an order-making power because there are points of detail that will need to be resolved following discussions with those most closely concerned.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Baker

If the hon. Lady will excuse me, I shall finish my comments and then allow her an opportunity to speak.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)


Mr. Baker

Because time is short.

We propose a power for the BBFC to review any work classified before the introduction of the new mandatory criteria and, in the light of those criteria and other relevant considerations, to alter the classification decision if appropriate. Just as when a work is originally submitted for classification, there will be a right of appeal against the board's decision to the Video Appeals Committee.

I emphasise that nothing that is being proposed will create retrospective criminal liability. No one will be prosecuted for actions taken before the new provisions come into force and which were lawful at the time they were carried out. The proposals will mean only that if, for example, age classification of a work is changed, those who supply it unlawfully in future will be liable to criminal sanctions.

Mr. Michael

The Lords amendment results from undertakings given in this House and meets the requirements that were sensibly set out in debates both here and outside.

There would clearly be an anomaly if there were no way of reviewing classifications given before the measure came into effect. It is therefore helpful to provide a limited opportunity for such review. It would also be helpful if it were made clear that there will be consultation on the nature of the regulations under which the review will take place.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Like other hon. Members, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for the news that he has given us. I thank the Home Secretary for honouring the commitment that he gave the House when we discussed the matter earlier this year. The Lords amendment adequately reflects most of the concerns expressed then.

The House will recall that there had been considerable debate inside and outside this place in the course of which many people raised their misgivings about the amount of violence on television and on videos and the effect that that could have on young, impressionable minds. It is not that every child who sees a violent video will go out and commit a violent offence, but all who have worked with children, especially maladjusted or disturbed children or those with special needs, know that they can often be tipped over the edge if they have a predisposition towards violence by being exposed to continuous and gratuitous violence on the screen.

The House will also recall that, at Easter, Professor Elizabeth Newsome and other distinguished psychologists, psychiatrists and paediatricians honestly admitted that they had been naive and had underestimated the effect that videos might have on the minds of impressionable young people. We have all been on a learning curve, trying to examine the effects of the video culture and of television violence on the young people of our country.

Ms Eagle

A study published earlier this year by the Policy Studies Institute and carried out by Hagell and Newburn, entitled "Young Offenders and the Media", found that young offenders rarely stay home enough to watch video violence and that their patterns of watching videos are much the same as those of children who do not offend. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that that research is superior to the research that he mentioned because it involved a control group of youngsters who do not offend at the same age as those who do? Elizabeth Newsome's research did not have a control group and relied mainly on American research carried out in a very different context.

Mr. Alton

The hon. Lady must admit that we should not want to follow the American example here—American violence is far worse than ours. Of course, we can all call in aid research that appears to support our arguments, but the fact is that 75 per cent. of the evidence heard by the House of Lords Select Committee suggested a direct correlation between the violence continually transmitted on television and videos and real violence in the community.

It is a matter of common sense. Advertisers would not spend £1.6 billion a year trying to sell their goods and to cultivate the consumerism and materialism that have become part and parcel of life here if they did not think that it was having an effect on those who watch. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a direct link. Professor Newsome and other distinguished academics in many centres of learning have rightly come to the same conclusion.

Mr. Stephen

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is not just a question of people being exposed to video violence and then going on to offend? It is also a question of the general coarsening and degrading effect that videos have on us all, young and old alike.

Mr. Alton

I agree, but the hon. Gentleman will agree, in turn, that the people whom we most need to protect are the young and impressionable. That was what brought about the debate earlier this year when hon. Members from all political parties signed the amendment asking for that change. I welcome the fact that the Government acted upon it in the other place.

During the debates there, Lord Elton moved an amendment seeking that videos that are currently available, such as "Child's Play 3", should also be included in the general review, and that it ought to be possible to pull in videos that might have caused controversy to be examined as well as those that might come on to the market in future, such as a "Child's Play 4". That amendment was not accepted in the other place, but the Government agreed to look at the issue and I am pleased that in amendment (b) to Lords amendment No. 82 they have introduced a provision to allow the British Board of Film Classification to look again at videos that might become matters of public controversy if people felt that they were having a profoundly disturbing effect on those who watched them.

I welcome what the Government have done; it has been a satisfactory outcome. I have several questions to put to the Minister which I hope he will be able to answer before the debate concludes.

The amendment contains a trigger mechanism for referring videos to the British Board of Film Classification. Whom does the Minister have in mind to do the referring? Will the BBFC accept referrals by Members of Parliament? Would the Home Office consider making referrals if it were to receive considerable numbers of representations from the public?

No one has it in mind that all 24,000 or so videos that are currently in circulation should be re-examined. We are talking about a very small number of videos, but it would be useful if the Minister could say how he envisages the trigger mechanism working.

How long will the review period be? Will it be open-ended or limited to an initial 12-month period? Can the Minister say what the timetable will be for the statutory instrument to be placed before Parliament to bring the scheme into effect? I hope that it will be as soon as possible, but it will be useful for the Minister to place it on record for the House tonight.

What publicity will be given to the review arrangements, including the BBFC initial decision to review a work and the outcome of that review? If the legislation is to help change attitudes—presumably the Home Office accepts that this is partly about changing attitudes and helping parents to be more discerning about the material that goes into their homes—the publicity surrounding the review of a particular video would be helpful.

In conclusion, I should like to thank the hon. Members who signed the original motion, particularly the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) and the Home Affairs Select Committee, which produced an extremely helpful report at a crucial moment in the progress of the Bill.

The issue will not end here this evening; we shall want to keep it under review, not least because hon. Members will be aware that last weekend in Norway a little five-year-old girl was killed by her playmates, who were just a little older than she was. The Norwegian authorities have withdrawn the television programme that they believe helped influence those children who carried out that killing. That same television programme is regularly broadcast in Britain. At least I hope that we shall try to discover what reasons led to the Norwegian authorities reaching that conclusion.

I hope that we shall continue to keep under review not just video violence, but the general level of violence on television transmissions that contributes to the culture of violence in Britain.

Mr. Michael Alison (Selby)

First, I briefly congratulate my hon. Friend the new junior Minister at the Home Office on the very fluent, concise and grave way in which, in the best Home Office tradition, speaking as if he had been there for many a long year, he placed before us an extremely agreeable legislative dish for our late supper this evening.

At the same time, I extend my warm appreciation and congratulations to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on the important pioneering role that he has played in bringing these important amendments before the House. My right hon. and learned Friend combines, unusually, an extremely acute analytical mind and head with a very responsive and warm political heart. The interaction of that rare combination of desirable attributes often leads him to the conclusion that a balance of reasonable possibility, as distinct from an absolute and proven demonstrable actuality, is good enough cause for taking an initiative, and sometimes a risk, in legislation. That is precisely what he has done in his decision, which is so highly commendable, to bring the amendments before the House.

The Home Affairs Committee, which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) chaired so powerfully and admirably, reached some markedly tentative conclusions. It is very much to the credit of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary that, in the light of what the Home Affairs Committee said, he has given the benefit of the doubt to common sense and common concern. I believe that that is the result of the combination of his head and his heart. He has done extremely well by the House of Commons, and by the public at large, by the way in which he has advanced the cause of regulating and controlling that dreadful disease—that dreadful affliction—of unacceptable and damaging videos. We shall all stand in his debt for many long years ahead and I commend him and my hon. Friend the Minister for what they have done in the short debate this evening.

10.30 pm
Ms Eagle

I shall mainly refer to Lords amendment No. 82 and to Government amendment (b), which was tabled to add retrospection to the classification of videos.

I do not oppose the clause, but I wish to express scepticism about its efficacy and to express some worries that I had while I was reading it. I also wish, if possible, to gain reassurance from the Minister about aspects that are slightly unclear, and about the degree of subjectivity, which I believe damages the clause.

I recognise, as do many other people, the widespread support in the House for the toughening of the law on this issue. I prefer what is now before us to the amendment that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) tabled, which I thought was even more flawed; which threatened to censor seriously the 70 per cent. of households in this country that consist of adults only; and with which the Home Secretary had his own difficulties, as he said when he spoke to the original clause at an earlier stage in the Bill's proceedings.

Mr. Alton


Ms Eagle

I wish to mention some other matters, but not before I have given way to the hon. Member for Mossley Hill.

Mr. Alton

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her courtesy.

The hon. Lady will recall that her right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who probably knows more about the film industry than anyone in the House, wrote a compelling article in The Daily Telegraph when my amendment was before the House, saying that he would vote for it without any hesitation. He refuted the argument that the hon. Lady has made this evening, which the industry put around at the time, that all types of videos would be caught by my amendment. The industry's only reason for making those arguments was money: people were frightened that they would lose money. The hon. Lady, of all people, surely would not be on the side of people who would be willing to exploit the innocent to make profits.

Ms Eagle

Certainly not. I always read the articles that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) writes, as I respect him as a friend and an extremely good film critic.

I am sceptical about some of the practical effects of the amendments, and I wish to mention some of them, and also some of the difficulties of interpreting the wording. I am worried about the difficult task that we are setting the British Board of Film Classification. I also believe that if it takes too draconian a role in the statutory powers that it will be given when the clause becomes law, we may find that we have gone too far the other way. There may also be some detrimental effects on the British film industry, which I shall discuss later.

I want to ensure—and to receive some reassurance about it from the Minister if possible—that the provision that we are debating will not be applied in such a way as to narrow the availability to the general public of important films that are recognised as classics. Films that have such artistic merit should escape the rules that we are laying before Parliament now. I shall be much happier if I receive some of those reassurances tonight.

We must bear in mind the origin of the clause. There was undoubtedly a moral panic, fuelled by lurid tabloid stories in the aftermath of the horrific and inexplicably brutal murder of James Bulger, and the comments of Mr. Justice Morland when he made explicit reference to the possible impact of violent videos in his comments on that case.

In the light of that controversy, the Home Secretary rightly ordered that reports be made so that he could consider the evidence and what had happened in the trial. I understand that the reports that he received did not support the theory that that appalling and horrific crime had been influenced by exposure to videos. Mr. Justice Morland subsequently clarified his comments by saying that they were not based on any evidence that he had heard in the trial of the Bulger case and that no such evidence was presented at the trial. We should remember that there was a controversy and that the arguments put were emotive and not proved by logic when one looked at the details.

We should also remember that many of the tabloids that sensationalised the story are owned by companies that have interests in satellite television channels and other electronic media and entertainment provision which are unaffected by the video classification rules that we are debating. We should bear it in mind that it is possible to argue that the tabloids have a direct commercial interest in a tightening of the regulation of one of their competitors. Satellite television and other extra-terrestrial delivery of electronic entertainment are escaping regulation at the moment and certainly are not subject to the same stringent regulations that we are now suggesting for the video industry. We should bear that little vested interest in mind.

I am sceptical about the effectiveness of the clause because it will be useful or relevant only if we assume that there is a firm causal link between viewing habits and behaviour. I know that many in the House believe that that is the case. I have considered the evidence, but so far I am not convinced that there is sufficient evidence either way. At the moment, the evidence is inconclusive.

I would support the commissioning of further research so that we can try to establish whether there is a link, but if links and causal links exist, they are complex and to simplify them to a firm link between something seen on a video and some behaviour that is then indulged in is not a proper basis on which to legislate. We should be trying to commission further work in that area.

The concern about uncontrolled exposure of young children to violent imagery is entirely understandable. It is something about which I and the whole House are concerned. But we should not jump to easy conclusions or legislate in a knee-jerk manner and assume that we have solved a complex and difficult problem. Solutions in these difficult areas of social policy and the interaction between entertainment and people's behaviour are never as easy as a firm causal link. It is easy, especially at a time of disgust and incredulity in the aftermath of a nasty and inexplicably brutal crime, to look for an easy answer. But we owe it to our constituents and the future health of our society to remember that the answers are not simple and that we should be serious and down to earth about what some of the questions are.

There is a long history of moral panics about the detrimental effects of the media and a long tradition of shifting blame for social breakdown on to the media. It is a pastime which has a long and venerable tradition, going back to the penny dreadfuls, the music hall and the time when films first became available. Then there was rock music. In the 1950s, Elvis Presley was meant to have caused much social breakdown with his new way of dancing. Then there came horror comics and television, and now it is video games. We need a reasonable assessment of the effects that the new technologies are having, not just a knee-jerk reaction.

Blaming those media for all our social ills is a bit like blaming witchcraft for crop failures. It conveniently apportions blame and allows some action to be taken which may make us feel better, but in reality it is all but irrelevant to the real causes.

Amendment No. 82 states that the British Board of Film Classification must pay special regard to any harm that may be caused to potential viewers". What is meant by the phrase "potential viewers"? Presumably, it could include all members of the sighted population who in any circumstance might see a video. How do the Government interpret that phrase? Amendment No. 82 also charges the board to consider young children as potential viewers even if the products available are so rated that young children would not under normal circumstances see them. If every person in the country is a potential viewer of everything, one wonders why we bother with a rating system. How does the board intend to observe that requirement?

How will the BBFC decide who is likely to view the video work in question if a classification … were issued"? The board will also have to consider, when considering a classification, the harm that might be done to society. What criteria will it apply? Perhaps the Minister will enlighten me.

How can we view in proper perspective legislation for potential harm to society perpetrated by the availability of videos when there is no statutory duty to consider the harm done to society by, for example, persistent mass unemployment? I am not sure that we have the right priorities.

I am concerned by the five categories of subject matter in amendment No. 82—criminal behaviour, illegal drugs, violent behaviour or incidents, horrific behaviour or incidents and, last of all, human sexual activity. I do not want to embarrass the Minister, but why is human sexual activity included as one classification? I assume that rape would be covered by the classifications of criminal or violent acts. It seems odd that human sexual activity should be bunged together with awful behaviour.

I welcome the fact that the BBFC is to retain discretion to interpret the new statutory rules and will bring its considerable influence to bear on such matters. However, I am concerned at the subjectivity inherent in the clause, which ranges too wide. It could be argued that "King Lear" would fail to receive a classification because it depicts criminal activity and violent or horrific behaviour and that Regan, Goneril and Edmund are partly motivated by human sexual activity. Why would not "King Lear" fall within the ambit of the proposed new clause?

The Government boasted in their 1992 election manifesto that this country's video classification rules are already the toughest in western Europe. My concern is that the proposed new clauses might allow the BBFC to take an unreasonably tough line. Will there be a way of keeping the situation under review, to ensure that there is no over-reaction?

The Government amendment would permit retrospective consideration of titles already released. In another place, Lord Ferrers said that the Home Secretary had considered the matter carefully and took the view that a system involving retrospection could not be made to work. My next question to the Minister echoes one put by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill. How will such retrospective consideration be triggered? Who will decide which titles should be re-examined?

I am happy that we are discussing these matters, as they are extremely important. It is also important that we do not over-react or oversimplify some of the complex causes of difficulties and violence. If the Minister can give me some assurances on the points that I have raised, I should be happy to support the amendments.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

I should like to support what was said by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) and the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison). The Government's amendment is very essential. I think that everybody in public life knows the power of an "eye gate" before an "ear gate", and videos have an effect on young people. It is the duty of this House and of the Ministers concerned, to see that proper safeguards are in place. I do not think that we need worry about what will happen in this case. The amendment deals with something that needs to be dealt with. I am sure that the two Ministers, when they come to the end of their careers—I am not suggesting that they are about to do so—will be happy that they did this, because it will have an effect on the future men and women of our country.

10.45 pm
Sir Ivan Lawrence

Everything possible that could be said about the matter has been said, but not everybody has said it. So I am grateful for a moment of the House's time to say thank you on behalf of the Home Affairs Select Committee for the way in which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has responded to our difficult recommendation that retrospection should be provided for in the Bill. That is the effect of Lords amendment No. 82, which gives effect to the Committee's sixth recommendation. In that regard, I give the thanks not only of the Committee and the House but I think of the whole country, and extend them to Mr. James Ferman and the BBFC, who told us, in the evidence that they gave, that this could be achieved without too much difficulty and trouble. The combination of what Mr. Ferman said and what the Committee recommended just tipped my right hon. and learned Friend over.

Mr. Howard

indicated assent.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

I see that he is nodding in agreement. The amendment will receive widespread approval.

We decided to have an investigation, which lasted only one day in June, at the height of public concern about the effects of video recordings on children. We said: Commonsense, and the existence of bodies like the BBFC, support the notion that videos can corrupt and, rather than engage in endless arguments about the precise way in which the videos damage children, it is obviously more profitable to consider what can be done to limit any such damage.

By the time that we had conducted our inquiry, the Government had already tabled their new clause to toughen up what the public considered to be the very weak state of our video classification laws.

I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to consider further the other recommendations of the Committee. We suggested that a warning notice should be given to adult purchasers or hirers of high-classification videos at the point of sale. We suggested that more work should be done on parental responsibility for the use of such videos and how the classification, if tightened, could be brought home to parents so that they could use their powers to stop this evil affecting the minds of their young children. We cast, as we went, a little straw in the wind and suggested that it might be helpful to have identity cards, because that would make it much easier for those who have the burden of selling videos in shops to identify precisely the ages of those to whom they were providing the equipment.

I think that the Government have shown themselves to be not only a listening Government but a responsive Government and a constructive Government. On behalf of the Home Affairs Select Committee, I hope that they might go one stage further and give effect to all our recommendations.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Colchester, South and Maldon)

I do not wish to detain the House for too long. But you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be aware that this is the first and only opportunity that we have had in this House to debate the issue. Given the amount of heat that it has generated in the past few months, I think that it is right that it be properly aired. No one could argue with the aim of the proposed amendments. Film is an extremely powerful medium and, although there is not much research at the moment, common sense suggests that young people who watch scenes of explicit violence or sex are likely to be influenced by them. That is why it is Clearly right for us to have some means of preventing children from seeing films that deal with subjects that they are not yet sufficiently mature to understand. That is why the BBFC was set up by the film industry in 1912.

Much criticism has been levelled at the BBFC in recent months, but I join my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) in paying tribute to its work and to its director, James Ferman. This country has a tougher regime of censorship of films and videos than any other country in Europe. I well remember attending a lecture by Michael Winner when I was a student, in which he complained bitterly about the cuts that he had been forced to implement in his latest film "Deathwish 2". Having visited the BBFC with one or two of my hon. Friends and seen examples of the scenes that it required to be cut, I can say that I believe that the BBFC was quite right to insist on their removal. It is interesting to note that in other countries they were shown.

Under the Video Recordings Act 1984, the BBFC is required to issue a certificate to any video before it can be sold or offered for rental. As a result, many videos have already been banned. After the passing of the Act, not only were so-called video nasties such as "Driller Killer" and "I Spit On Your Grave" outlawed; the BBFC also refused to issue certificates for films such as "Straw Dogs" and "The Exorcist" because of the risk of their being seen by children. Even now, the BBFC is debating whether to authorise the video release of "Reservoir Dogs", a film which has been so successful that two years after its first release it is still showing in commercial cinemas. Incidentally, I hope that the BBFC will decide to grant "Reservoir Dogs" a certificate. It is undeniably a violent film, but it is also a very powerful film which deserves to be seen by adult audiences.

I can understand the view of those who feel that more needs to be done, and the paper by Professor Newson is extremely worrying. I am therefore happy to support the provisions in the amendments that will increase the penalties for those breaking the Video Recordings Act, and tighten the exemptions from it. I am anxious, however, that the new criteria that the Bill sets out for the BBFC to use in judging the suitability of a video for release, and the additional powers of retrospective review, should not lead to more than a tiny number of films being deemed unsuitable.

The British Film Institute has already warned that it believes that the amendment could mean that many internationally acclaimed films that gain a cinema release with an "18" certificate will not be certifiable for video release. I do not believe that films such as "The Godfather", "Raging Bull" and "Schindler's List", which have "15" or "18" certificates, will be affected—that would clearly be ludicrous—but I also hope that other films made specifically for adult audiences are not caught by the provision. Horror films such as "The Silence of the Lambs", "Nightmare on Elm Street" and Clive Barker's "Hellraiser" clearly should not be seen by children, but they are good films, and it would be entirely wrong to deprive the 70 per cent. of households that do not contain children of the chance of seeing them on video.

Finally, I want to say a brief word about "Child's Play 3"—a film which has received considerable media attention, most of it wholly uninformed. It was perhaps understandable that, in the wake of the murder of Jamie Bulger, attempts should be made to explain the horror of that tragedy. It is possible that exposure of the two boys responsible to violent videos played a part; but, as the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) has pointed out, the police reports did not support the theory that the crime had been influenced by exposure either to that video or to videos in general.

Unlike most people who have commented on the subject, I have seen "Child's Play 3". It was not a particularly enjoyable experience; it is not a very good film, but nor is it a particularly remarkable film. The scenes of violence in it are mild in comparison with those in hundreds of other films that are available today on the shelves in video shops. If the intention is to ban films such as that, it will also be necessary to ban hundreds of other films. I cannot believe that that is what the Government want.

The need to control young people's access to violent films is undeniable and that is why I strongly support the Video Recordings Act 1984 and the work of the BBFC. Used judiciously, I believe that the extra powers in the Bill could help to increase still further the protection available to children. However, at the end of the day, the responsibility for controlling our children's viewing habits must lie with their parents. There is no substitute for that. Just like alcohol and cigarettes, some videos will not be suitable for children. The way to stop children seeing them is not to ban them but for parents to exercise proper control.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on his fluency, particularly since he has recently given up vows that would have been more appropriate for a Trappist monk. Before the debate concludes, I invite him to address the issue of the effective ban that will be imposed by amendment No 81 on all videos that depict or encourage criminal activity. My hon. Friend's example of bomb making was a good one.

Can my hon. Friend explain why the amendment was produced only in time for the Lords and was not the subject of a separate Bill? Does he agree that there have been numerous representations from the police and other authorities about a ban on the distribution of such material? Is not it strange that this should be tabled in the House of Lords rather than in this House, which would have given us a decent opportunity to debate the issue? Are not we in danger of falling into the trap—the Broadcasting Act 1990 was a classic example—of technology superseding the legislation passed by the House?

Instead of an amendment being tacked on to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, would not it have been more appropriate, particularly if there have been many representations from the police, for a separate Bill so as to provide the House with a proper opportunity to discuss the technology and the implications of a serious and important ban and an extension of criminal penalties into the video lending industry?

Mr. Nicholas Baker

I am afraid that I shall not reply now to all the points that have been raised in this very good debate. I shall write to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) and to the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle). I must say to people who feel as she does that there is no doubt in my mind—this has been echoed in many of the speeches—that something needs to be done.

The BBFC is based in the film industry. It has been classifying films for years. It has experience and it knows how to do it. We are talking about reclassification and I think that the hon. Lady failed to appreciate that in what she had to say. I shall write to her about the other points that she raised.

I must tell the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), even if he is not prepared to attend to me now, that a great deal of consultation with the industry will take place before we can go ahead. If the hon. Gentleman has any points to add, they will be listened to.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) made a number of detailed points and I will write to him as soon as I can. I welcome the support that has been given from both sides for what we propose.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to, some with special entry.

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