HC Deb 09 March 1995 vol 256 cc453-4
12. Mr. Alton

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what research is being undertaken by his department into the levels of violence in society and the broadcasting of violent material.

Mr. Maclean

The Home Office is funding a research project which will look at whether it is possible to identify images and concepts in videos which appeal to, and have a greater effect upon, young offenders, both at the time of viewing and subsequently.

Mr. Alton

I welcome the new research, which I understand will be undertaken over the next couple of years. Does the Minister accept, however, that common sense alone tells us that what we see is bound to have some effect upon us? Is he aware of the "Panorama" programme, which revealed recently that up to 10 per cent. of people who are predisposed to commit violent acts are likely to have them triggered by what they see?

Will the Minister take the opportunity to condemn the makers of violent television programmes, videos and films in which violence is glorified? Will he take the opportunity also to condemn those who set violence in an amoral context and who see the cultivation of violence as the ultimate fashion accessory of the 1990s?

Mr. Maclean

I am delighted to agree with every word that the hon. Gentleman says. It is true that the research conducted to date is inconclusive, but common sense tells us—this is the Government's firm view—that video and television images must have an effect. If television does not influence behaviour, why should hard-nosed capitalists spend £3,000 million a year on advertising? Of course television is bound to influence behaviour. There is a heavy burden on everyone who makes films—not only videos but those who are in charge of news programmes as well—to ensure that if there are scenes of violence they are set in a relevant context, that they are not gratuitous and that they are not included merely for titillation.

Mr. Rowe

Is my hon. Friend confident that the research project will deliver valuable results? I understand that much of the large budget of the Home Office that has been spent over the years on research has resulted in little of that research being used in the making of policy. Is he able to give us an assurance that that is not the case?

Mr. Maclean

I can give my hon. Friend a categorical assurance that, whatever the results of the research, the Government will implement them. I might not agree with the conclusions. We have tried to focus on the research. We commissioned it to seek to establish whether it is possible to identify certain images of concepts in videos that might appeal to youngsters of a certain disposition. For example, and without going into detail, my hon. Friend may watch the film "Terminator II"; he may or he may not; certain parts of it may appeal to him. Research has shown that some parts of the film—it is interesting that there are some especially horrific scenes—are of particular interest to young offenders. If we can identify the trigger mechanisms, we might be better able to guide censors in future.

Mr. Straw

While research directed specifically at the effect of violence on young offenders is welcome, does the Minister not accept that it is likely that the gratuitous violence that is seen on television, videos and through other media is corrupting not only potential young offenders but all young people, since it is bound to reduce their tolerance to violence? Although research is essential, it is also essential that action is taken, particularly by people like the British Board of Film Classification, to ensure that the gratuitous violence that is now on our screens is cut out.

Mr. Maclean

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That is why, in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, we introduced new statutory criteria for the BBFC to have special regard to when classifying works. We also brought computer chips and cartridges under the scope of the Act for the first time. We gave trading standards officers new powers to deal with videos and introduced a new custodial sentence for the supply of unclassified video material.

I hope, by this summer, to lay before the House orders that will narrow the category of video works that are exempt from the requirement of classification, and to bring in powers to review old works, if the BBFC thinks that appropriate, because that will also help to cut out some of the gratuitous violence. I return to the basic point: the first onus is on film producers to be sensible.