HL Deb 09 June 1982 vol 431 cc252-66

7.11 p.m.

Viscount Colville of Culross

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I shall try to persuade your Lordships to agree with that Motion. The Bill concerns certain commercial exhibitions of material on film, video-tape, disc and other electronic wonders with which I have not yet become acquainted, which are not at the moment subject to the licensing procedure. There is nothing new about licensing procedures for commercial exhibition of film. It goes back to the Cinematograph Act 1909 and that Act was reviewed and amended in 1952.

The original target of licensing was safety. I should think this was because film in those days being highly inflammable, there was a very high fire risk. In due time the courts held that the licensing authority was also able to control the content of films. In other words, there was a censorship system set up. That indeed was confirmed by Parliament in the 1952 Act.

Those who have been in this House over recent months will know that there is currently much preoccupation with the sexual content of films, tapes and other forms of publication together with the extremes of violence and sadism with or without sexual connotations. There have been a number of debates about the rapid increase of the production of this sort of material. It will also be no novelty to your Lordships that views about obscenity, pornographic violence and censorship have been seen to vary enormously.

There has recently been the advice of the Williams Committee and much debate in Parliament on the subject, as I have said, not least on the relevant parts of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which has now gone back to another place. That was used by my friends on the Front Bench in another place and here to introduce and refine a licensing system for sex shops and other sex establishments. That is very relevant to this Bill, as I shall explain.

However broad that debate may have been and however passionately held are the views of various noble Lords, I have learned that Private Members' Bills need usually to be fairly modest if they have any ambition to succeed. I suggest to your Lordships that such a Bill is the one now before you which was introduced into another place by my honourable friend the Member for Fareham and carefully chosen by him as being a comparatively narrow area in this general subject under discussion.

What it does is this: it deals with two quite serious loopholes in the licensing system which have increasingly become of concern. Secondly, it fits in—and intentionally fits in—with the provisions in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which I have just mentioned so that the two will work, as I understand it, hand in hand in order to deal with the totality of this problem.

But there is one added advantage to this Bill which I hope will increase its recommendation to your Lordships because the chance has been taken to modernise certain aspects of the cinematograph legislation so that in clue course it may be clarified by the consolidation procedure. I hope that my noble friend may be able to confirm what was said in another place, that there is some reasonably urgent intention so to do.

Some clauses as a result need more comment than others. I have spoken about consolidation and I think that it will be fairly obvious to those concerned with that rather recondite subject that Clause 10 and the first schedule are mainly concerned with that. I hope that I need not go any further into them. There are two main clauses in this Bill and I should explain them and some of the connections that need to be discussed when they are considered.

Clause 1 is intended to close the first loophole. The two earlier Acts of 1909 and 1952 probably—and I say "probably" because it has never been interpreted by the courts—do not cover video in many of the forms in which it is currently employed. The formula in the existing legislation which attracts licensing is an exhibition of moving pictures on a screen by means which include the projection of light. There are those, including myself, who doubt whether this necessarily and safely can be interpreted to cover the activation of a television screen by a tape or a disc scanned by any number of different electronic heads.

As I indicated before, no doubt technology will continue to advance apace and there may be any number of new varieties whereby the moving picture may be exhibited. But already there are numbers of clubs, pubs, and so on, which use an ordinary television screen together with a video screen. What the clause therefore does is to introduce a comprehensive definition of what kind of moving picture shall be covered, and that is in the body of Clause 1. It is repeated in the first paragraph of the schedule for the purposes of consolidation. The only aspect excluded is the simultaneous exhibition of BBC or IBA television transmissions or cable television transmissions licensed by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.

The reason for that exclusion, of course, is that in all those forms of transmission there are strict standards and authorities which ensure that those standards are maintained. I should say that I stress "simultaneous exhibition" of these television pictures because, of course, in the process of ensuring strict standards some programmes are put out at a certain time of day—for instance, late at night when children are not so likely to be watching—and those would not be exempted if they were reproduced at a different time of day.

The way in which this licensing system will work is no different from that with which those concerned are already very familiar. The licensing authorities will be the same; there will be district councils in England and Wales; the Greater London Council in London; and district and islands councils in Scotland. The Bill, as Clause 11(4) shows, does not extend to Northern Ireland. The reason for that is in no way sinister. It is merely that the basic legislation there is rather different. But if it should be thought fit—and I am sure my noble friend Lord Elton knows all about this—there is no difficulty about making a statutory order which would extend a proper system to Northern Ireland if local circumstances should so require.

The councils that at present issue licences for cinematograph exhibition usually make use of the Home Office model licensing conditions. They can make their own rules if they want to, of course, and some in fact make a practice of looking at films. But, on the whole, they use the model conditions, and the model conditions are based upon the work of a body which I am sure is very familiar to your Lordships, the British Board of Film Censors, which produces the A, AA or X certificate or, now in increasingly rare cases, the U one where all may attend. It may be that at the moment purpose-made video tapes are not normally submitted to the board for their certification hut, as 1 understand it, the board is happy to take on that task should it be asked to do so. There are great advantages in this.

There is no charge on the taxpayer or ratepayer, because the certification process is paid for by the person who makes the film or video tape and, if I may introduce a slightly personal reminiscence, when I was a Minister at the Home Office I went to see the work of the board and examined some films they had considered and had decided whether or not to allow them to be exhibited under their certificate at all and, if so, with what cuts. I was surprised at the original that was in some cases presented to them, and full of admiration about the judiciousness of the editing that they required to be made to the film before they would give it any kind of certificate at all. So they are highly experienced, I would have thought most responsible and, above all, they are paid for by the people who make the programmes in the first place. So there is the introduction of modern technology within an old and well-tried system.

In Clause 2 is perhaps the kernel of the Bill. It has been very carefully drafted so as to catch what I would suggest to your Lordships is generally thought ought to be caught, while allowing the proper exemptions from licensing where those are still wholly acceptable. The trouble stems from Section 5 of the 1952 Act, which exempted from licensing exhibitions to which the public are not admitted. That has led, and increasingly so in recent years, to the cinema club. Most such clubs are no true clubs at all. Membership can be obtained often in a matter of minutes by filling in a form at the door and giving a name and address. I say "a name and address" because they do not necessarily have to be your own. Sometimes—indeed quite frequently—these clubs are advertised publicly; but as the law stands at the moment there is no scrutiny of them either in terms of safety or in terms of the content of the material they exhibit.

The Bill now introduces the test of private gain in Clause 2(2). That is intended to be a wide enough definition to take on those who might contemplate further methods of circumventing the law, such as giving free admission but charging £5 for ice cream, or for the privilege of hanging up your coat. It also covers the front organisation ", which is in itself non-profitmaking but is handing over a wholly unreasonable and intentionally excessive fee for hiring the equipment or the premises, and similar abuses. However, I would hasten to reassure your Lordships that the bona fide film society or club will not be caught, because there will be no gain; nor would a charitable, sporting or political organisation or society which uses the money for an exhibition not for a particular private gain but for the purposes of its overall activities. Your Lordships will find that that is carefully spelt out in Clause 2(3).

The desire to catch these less-than-desirable activities has existed for some time. The aim of Clause 2 was covered by the Cinematograph and Indecent Displays Bill, which was introduced by the Government in 1973 but did not get very far before that Government, and with it I myself, fell in 1974. But at any rate I now hope that, eight years later, we may be able to accomplish what was then, and still is, I think, in many quarters felt to be a most desirable aim.

This is the clause which interlinks particularly with the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. Your Lordships will remember that the provisions of that Bill exempt from licensing those cinematograph exhibitions which are licensed under the cinematograph Acts, and this Bill I am now introducing. The provisions will therefore lock together. They will come into force at the same time and this Bill, as a result, will be the first line of supervision for exhibitions of this sort, whether it is videos, clubs, films, or whatever it may be. The body of the cinematograph Acts will be the first line of defence.

But there remains, by virtue of the provisions in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, the position of a sex cinema which falls outside the provisions of the Bill I am now talking about, and the local government Bill will catch it—for instance, arguably a demonstration of "blue" videos at the back of a sex shop shown in order to encourage people to purchase or hire the tapes which are being demonstrated but for which no charge for entry is made. I say "arguably" because of the point I am just coming to—because if there is one criticism which has been drawn to my attention and that of my honourable friend in another place about Clause 2, it is that it might catch what is on all counts a perfectly legitimate activity: that is, the display in high street shops up and down the land of the video tapes that they have available for sale or hire and whose contents cannot possibly earn the rebuke or dismay of anybody. It is a problem and it is one that certainly requires to be considered.

I am not, at the moment, sure that there is any grave need for apprehension about it, although it has been to some extent expressed in the newspapers and in correspondence, because an exhibition under Clause 2 has to be promoted for private gain and these particular exhibitions will be only incidental to the ordinary business of the shop, which is, among other things, the hiring or selling of video tapes. But I see that there could arguably be said to be an element of private gain, in that the person or the company owning the shop would hope to make some money out of the sale or hire of the tapes.

There is therefore a drafting difficulty here. I do not necessarily propose to leave it as it is, because I should like to explore, if my noble friend Lord Elton will assist me, the possibilities of looking further into this matter, although I cannot promise that there will be a satisfactory amendment, at least at this stage in the Bill. I will say just one thing about amendments. Your Lordships will know that the time for Private Members' Bills in another place is limited; there is only one day left. Therefore, I think we are all bound to be very careful, if we wish to see what is a really useful measure going through, not to obfuscate it by large numbers of amendments which will inevitably mean that it runs out of time. However, that does not mean to say that I am not prepared to consider further this point which has been most justifiably raised.

On subsequent clauses, I can go very quickly, though I shall be happy to try to answer any questions that noble Lords have. Clause 3 brings the application for licences into line with the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill itself, and it does, I think very properly, allow time for fire authorities to give advice to licensing authorities, which will not necessarily be the same. Clause 4 deals with appeals. It re-enacts and extends the earlier rights of appeal in which certain gaps have been found. Clause 5, which is about powers of entry, is closely paralleled with the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, again, so that we have a coherent code. But it replaces the 1909 provision, which now needs to be brought up to date.

In Clauses 6 and 7, we have the penalties. In Clause 6, there is the power of arrest and seizure which was, not unnaturally, a subject of some interest in another place, and may well be here, though I think perhaps it is now right. As for arrest, one needs to have powers to deal with the front man who appears at the seedy club and who, if he is not apprehended at the very time, may not be there next day when the policeman comes back with a warrant. But there is nothing new about that either, because only last year that was agreed to in very similar circumstances in the Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981. As for seizure, that is tied to the powers of forfeiture under Clause 7(5). But, lest your Lordships should think that that is an extreme measure, an examination of that subsection will show that it goes only to cases where unlicensed premises are being used for an exhibition, and then only in regard to things relating to the offence or the supposed offence.

In Clause 7, there are truly enormous penalties. Again, these are in line with the final version of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. I believe that these two Bills are unique in enabling a magistrates' court to impose a fine of up to £10,000, but anyone who has listened to debates on this subject knows that there are truly massive gains and profits to be made from the business concerned, and that the power of the courts to punish ought to be commensurate. As I understand it, there may well be further consideration of penalties over a larger field—this happens from time to time—but I am taking the opportunity of fitting in with the exactly similar, sister provisions in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill; and this penalty has already been quite widely discussed in another place and finalised in your Lordships' House.

In Clause 8, we catch the director, the officers and the secretary of the £100 company which may be running the premises. That brings me to Clause 9, which is interpretation, and the rest of the Bill, which, unless there are any points of interest, is really intended to lead to the consolidation that I mentioned. I hope that this will be thought to be a wholly practical, even if modest, advance in this rather difficult field. It ought not, I suggest, to arouse any controversy, but it does something which numbers of people have been urging for some time. I hope that your Lordships will agree that it does it with moderation, in accordance with what has already been discussed in Parliament—indeed, so late as this year—but in such a way as will be truly effective to deal with a modern and somewhat pernicious trade. Accordingly, I hope that, as happened in another place, it will be allowed to go through with a certain amount of acclamation and will go on to the statute book in order to take its place beside the Government Bill to which I have so frequently referred. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)

7.37 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, not only does the Bill, in the judgment of the Opposition for whom I speak, deserve acclamation. The noble Viscount himself deserves the acclamation of this House for the very clear, lucid and eloquent way in which he has dealt with the provisions of this Bill. We are indebted to him.

As your Lordships have been informed, the main purpose of this Bill is to block a loophole which was left by the Section 5 of the Cinematograph Act 1952. As has been explained, a rather nasty—and I am using an understatement—element in our national life in districts such as Soho and especially in London, has crept up by way of these bogus cinema clubs. It is not just a question of our dealing with something which is a minor element in our civic life. The estimate is that there are about 70 of these clubs in London alone, and the number is increasing. Therefore, this Bill is certainly a timely one in seeing that these establishments have to be licensed. They are a moral threat to many of the people who go to those clubs, because the system of becoming a member is a completely false, bogus exercise. Children are getting there, as are people of a weak mentality, and your Lordships heard only recently from the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chief Justice, what this introduction of easy access to pornographic material is doing in the case of the young criminals who go before him and who have committed sexual offences.

They are a death trap, too. Any of us who have seen these premises in Soho—I hope, most of us, from the outside—will realise what a complete and absolute death trap they would be, if fire occurred on the premises. Because these premises are not subject to any licensing control, as they would be if they were ordinary cinema premises coming under the 1909 and the 1952 Acts, they are a very dangerous risk.

I wonder whether—your Lordships, I am sure, would not otherwise know what is being shown in these premises—I may be permitted to quote from the Williams Report to which the noble Viscount referred. They carried out an investigation into what occurs in the very kind of premises we are talking about this evening. With your Lordships' permission, I shall quote from paragraph 12.35 of the Williams Report: …the club system means that, leaving aside the present criminal law,"— This is a reference to the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and possibly to the Indecent Displays (Control) Act which has only just been passed— there is a total lack of control on the nature of the films shown and the audiences admitted to see them. Although many clubs show films which we would regard as acceptable for restricted viewing, this is not always the case. We were told that one sadistic sex film which we saw might have been shown in clubs in this country; our view was that the film would be turned down by any censorship system, however liberal, and we noted in our talks with the French film censor that the same and similar films are banned entirely in France despite the existence of a special category there for films which are pornographic or, indeed, incite to violence ". For us to be behind France in this matter is indeed an extraordinary situation. There are a number of film clubs which specialise in oriental martial arts films which can be extremely violent and which are often required to he cut by the the British Board of Film Censors even before being given an ' X' certificate. The admission of children to these clubs means that uncensored films containing the kind of material which would not be passed, even for adult viewing in a public cinema, is being shown without any restriction at all on who may see it. We consider it desirable that the scope of the censorship system should be extended so as to impose some control on what at present is subject to none. There is a need both to draw the line at what is acceptable even for restricted audiences and to ensure that restrictions are properly observed ". The Williams Committee was criticised, if anything, for having too liberal a tendency regarding their recommendations. I imagine that noble Lords will therefore consider that the recommendation of the Williams Committee that these clubs need to be dealt with by legislation ought to be treated with even more respect than your Lordships otherwise might.

Having given a general welcome to the provisions contained in the Bill, I move only to a few points before your Lordships, with some relief, will see me retake my seat. The first point is one which has already been raised by the noble Viscount: the need to consolidate the Cinematograph Acts. I am not claiming any originality for that thought, because the Minister in another place recognised the need to consolidate and said that he would be proceeding with it. As the noble Viscount indicated, it would indeed help if we could hear not only that the consolidation is taking place but that the tidiness of the interaction between this Bill and the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill has been looked at and that that interaction will be a sensible and tidy legislative process without any ends being left uncovered.

The second point which I wish to raise is one to which brief reference was made; namely, the British Board of Film Censors. Your Lordships should appreciate the very fine work which is being done by the board. I mention it because the Williams Report suggested that a statutory body, as opposed to this body which has been set up inside the film industry, should be set up instead. As somebody who has spent over 20 years in local authority circles, I can only say that by and large local authorities regard the British Board of Film Censors' certification and general licensing procedure with the greatest of respect. It has saved most of those authorities the job of supervising these films themselves. As the noble Viscount pointed out, the board keeps itself out of the fees which are paid by the industry itself for doing their work. This allows the board to retain its independence. The gratitude of all those who are looking into these matters ought, on the very rare occasions when one can do so, to be expressed to a body of that nature which is doing an extremely good job. The Williams Report recommended, as I have already mentioned, that a statutory body should be set up. I notice that I am speaking to many Peers who seem to dislike the idea of quangos. The setting up quite unnecessarily of one more quango would meet even with the opposition of my noble friends and myself.

In describing the penalties in the way that he did—the noble Viscount used the words "ferocious penalties"—I am wondering whether or not he was over-stating the position. As I understand it, the penalty of £10,000 is applicable only to the breach of the provisions in the Bill which relate specifically to the carrying on, upon unlicensed premises, of what should, in fact, be licensed. All the subsidiary offences, if I may call them that, attract a maximum penalty of £1,000. I raise this point only because I should not like it to be thought that I agree that this is a ferocious penalty. If you are in breach of these provisions—either because you are endangering life because your premises are not being looked at for fire risk, and they should be, or because you are endangering morals because of the kind of films you are showing, sadistic or otherwise—I should hate to think that the maximum penalty which the court could award would be £10,000, knowing, as the noble Viscount pointed out, the terrific profits which are made in this trade. I should not like it to be thought that this House regarded £10,000 as a ferocious penalty or as one which could not be looked at from time to time. It is a maximum penalty. I do not intend to take up any more of your Lordships' time upon it because, as I understand the situation, the Criminal Justice Bill which is going through its various stages in your Lordships' House at the moment will enable these penalties to be increased, if it is thought fit to do so, without your Lordships having to provide for it in this Bill.

Lastly, in the general welcome which we on this side of the House give to the Bill and in wishing it well, may I turn for a moment to the point raised by the noble Viscount—he expressed some concern regarding it—as to whether the type of establishments covered by the Bill may not go into an area which he would not intend and which your Lordships would not intend. This is a very serious matter and I hope that the Minister will be able to ensure, with all those guiding him, that the definition clause is looked at. We all respect the great legal ability of the noble Viscount. I believe that the combination of that extremely able team, together with a parliamentary draftsman, may be able to assist.

But, if I may say so, we must not regard this as a minor matter. I am conscious of the letter that was written to The Times after this Bill left another place. It came from the editor of Screen Digest, who, after commenting that he was unhappy with the wording of Section 2, said specifically: A shop displaying the video programmes which are there offered for sale would become a ' cinema ' with all that entails in terms of licensing, fire regulations, British film quota and Eady levy requirements. Moreover, by extension, any point-of-sale display using film or video, whatever the commodity being sold, is in furtherance of private gain and thus open to classification as a cinematograph exhibition. Similarly affected would be industrial training courses (even when run in-company they are intended to enhance private gain), conferences, sales representatives' portable audio-visual desktop kits, the front-of-house video displays now appearing outside some cinemas, even videotext terminals and receivers ". This has to be looked at. Mr. Fisher makes a plea in the last sentence of his letter, and it is a very realistic one, that it should not he left, to a succession of lengthy and costly lawsuits to re-define the meaning of ' cinematograph exhibition for private gain ' by means of case law ". That is a perfectly justifiable request which a very respectable individual makes to ensure that the respectable carryings on of the parts of his industry in which he is interested are not interfered with by this Bill. That would not be the intention of those who are promoting this Bill either. Having said that, I repeat that, in my view and that of my noble friends, this is a worthy Bill which comes to your Lordships not a minute before time. I personally hope that it will have a rapid passage and that we shall see a diminution in what is a blot on London's landscape and on certain other parts of the country as well.

7.53 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I originally put down my name to speak on this Bill because I am the Peer charged on these Benches for dealing with the Arts, and this could possibly be regarded as verging on the Arts, if only just. But I then scratched ' because it seemed to me that apart from a general welcome to the Bill which the noble Viscount introduced, I had nothing to say and therefore that it was a very good thing not to say it. But in the course of the noble Viscount's remarks, a question has occurred to me which I should like to ask. I hope noble Lords will bear with me if I very briefly do so. I have not been able to give to the noble Viscount—who inquired whether I had anything to ask—notice of my question and I shall of course understand if he is unable to deal with it in his winding-up speech.

Although my question may seem to be a little frivolous, it is perhaps a fairly serious question. It concerns Clause 2(3). This subsection gives an exemption, where the proceeds of an exhibition promoted by a society which is established and conducted wholly for purposes other than purposes of any commercial undertaking ", are applied for any purpose calculated to benefit the society as a whole. My imagination has been running riot during the course of the speeches and I just wondered this. I believe that the noble Viscount mentioned political parties. My party is very badly off. If we were to have video shows which were open to all members of my political party and where payment was made, they would presumably be exempt from the provisions of this Bill. I hasten to say that no such thing would ever happen because the ghost of Mr. Gladstone would rise up in anger and strike us all down. But it is not a wholly frivolous question. It is quite possible, if I am right in what I have been saying, that there are societies whose objects are entirely other than making private gain from commercial showings but which might be composed of people who were reckless about how they raised money and that those societies would be able by this method to raise money for whatever their general purposes might be. I hope that I am wrong. If I am not wrong, possibly this is something that the noble Viscount and his advisers ought to look at again. Apart from that, I give a very strong welcome from these Benches to this Bill.

7.55 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

My Lords, I hope it will be to the advantage of your Lordships if I now give the Government's views on this Bill. I begin, as other noble Lords have done, by thanking my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross for the very clear exposition which he has given of the provisions of the Bill and of the thinking which lies behind them. As I am sure other noble Lords have discovered, the existing cinematograph legislation is far from straightforward—not least because it has been so heavily amended—and this is inevitably reflected in the detailed provisions of the present Bill. The House will be grateful to my noble friend for his guidance through this difficult territory.

The Government warmly welcome this Bill. We have, in another place, given every possible assistance to its sponsor, my honourable friend the Member for Fareham, Mr. Peter Lloyd, and we very much hope that it will receive the same degree of support from your Lordships as it received there. I was very glad to note the favourable reception it had from both noble Lords on the other side of the House in this regard.

Recent debates on some of the provisions of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and on the Dissemination of Pornography Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford have made many of us more familiar than we were with the seedier side of the entertainment world. I hope it has become clear in the process that the Government believe that the most satisfactory means of tackling the problems posed by the trade in pornography is, at present, to concentrate on those areas where there is likely to be a large measure of agreement as to the action that should be taken. The discussions on the report of the Williams Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship have, in our view, made it quite clear that this measure of agreement would not exist if we were to attempt a root and branch reform of all the existing legislation on obscenity. But progress can be made on more limited fronts—where the mischief is obvious and blatant and where there is a reasonably straightforward way of dealing with it.

This Bill is an example of that approach and will, I hope, show that it can achieve quite a lot and achieve it quite quickly. There are other examples. The Indecent Displays (Control) Act which was passed last session—has undoubtedly had a salutary effect on window displays in Soho and elsewhere, and on the covers of magazines; and the Government quite recently put forward their own proposals for the control of sex shops in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which has already been mentioned. Those of your Lordships who took part in our discussions of them will recognise that they will prove extremely useful to those who seek to curb the spread of what has come to be called the sex industry and its very undesirable concomitants.

The present Bill can be regarded as the third prong of this attack. Your Lordships may think it odd that the Government have decided that it is better to deal with the issue of sex cinemas by means of this third prong than by tackling it also in Schedule 3 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. As my right honourable and learned friend the Minister of State at the Home Office explained in another place, we believe that the primary means of control over cinemas should continue to be through existing cinematograph legislation. This has worked very effectively for no less than 73 years, and it applies as much to so-called sex cinemas as to the ordinary high street cinemas. The sex cinema differs from the latter only because it does not conform with the usual film censorship conditions and is therefore able to show uncensored films. If such cinemas are brought within the ordinary cinematograph licensing arrangements, a licensing authority can impose censorship arrangements simply by means of imposing licensing conditions. This will give licensing authorities complete control over what is shown. It is unnecessary therefore to supplement these controls by the arrangements proposed in the miscellaneous provisions Bill in respect of sex shops.

Accordingly, to avoid duplication, Schedule 3 to that Bill provides that a cinema licensed under this Bill is exempt from the licensing controls of that schedule. That leaves the references that there are to sex cinemas in that Bill as a form of long-stop to deal with circumstances in which the cinematograph licence requirement could perhaps not apply, such as perhaps when a sex shop had a video-cassette operating in a back room showing a pornographic film, not as an exhibition for which admission was charged in its own right, but as an incidental sales gimmick. It could be argued that, depending on the circumstances, there could be doubt about the Cinematograph Bill's application, and in that event the provisions of Schedule 3 are there as a back-up, and I think the local authorities are a good deal happier that that should he so.

But for our main purpose it seems clear that a proper instrument lies to hand in the form of existing cinematograph legislation, and the Bill brought before your Lordships by my noble friend is a timely means of adapting it to that end. As he explained, it has as its principal purpose the ending of the abuse of the cinematograph licensing system by bogus cinema "clubs". These at present take advantage of the exemption afforded by Section 5(1) of the Cinematograph Act 1952 for exhibitions "to which the public are not admitted". In so doing they are able at one and the same time to escape both from the censorship conditions which local authorities invariably attach to a cinematograph licence and from the fire safety regulations made under the Cinematograph Act 1909.

In a debate in another place on the Williams Committee's report last June my honourable and learned friend suggested that it might be possible to take action to close this loophole, and we are delighted that this suggestion was acted upon so quickly by my honourable friend the Member for Fareham.

There is an overwhelming case for closing the loophole. My noble friend Lord Nugent, during our recent debates on the sex shop provisions in the local government Bill, referred to the extreme nature of the material being shown in these clubs. There is a complete lack of control over what is shown; if material which involves sadism, violence and bestiality, frequently with sexual connotations, is not already being shown, there is an imminent danger that it will be. Your Lordships will recall, and the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has recalled to your Lordships, the very strong views of the Williams Committee on the shocking offensiveness of some of the material available in moving picture form outside the licensing system. He referred your Lordships to a different passage. I would, without quoting it, refer those who have not read them to paragraphs 12.8 and 12.10. Together with his measured repetition, I think the case is overwhelming.

The committee recommended that there should continue to be a film censorship system applying to children and adults, although, as noble Lords have been reminded, it also proposed a number of changes, including the replacement of the present British Board of Film Censors by a statutory Film Examining Board and the abolition of the censorship powers of local authorities. I would not like the noble Lord to think that we were not sensible of the very great work that the present body is doing.

Another recommendation of the committee goes to the heart of my noble friend's Bill. It is for an extension of the film censorship system to cover the bogus cinema "clubs". They operate virtually in the same way as public cinemas. They go through the motions perhaps of asking someone to sign a membership form, but that is often not worth the paper it is written on, and very often it is not written. It is quite unacceptable that they should not be subject to the same controls as public cinemas. The Bill will bring all exhibitions promoted for private gain within the ambit of licensing controls and safety requirements.

The Bill also introduces another major change, and my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross has rightly laid great stress on this. It extends the definition of cinematograph exhibitions. This extension will mean that it includes beyond any possible doubt exhibitions by means of video cassettes and similar apparatus. That at last brings the Cinematograph Acts fully into line with the realities of modern technology. It is quite wrong that people should be able to evade controls simply because they use equipment which has only recently been invented.

As to penalties, I find it very difficult to add to what my noble friend has already said. The provisions are, I think, robust perhaps rather than ferocious. I think they complement those in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. As my noble friend has said, they go hand in hand. I think their robustness is abundantly justified. Some of the material now available for exhibition is of a profoundly shocking nature and must not be unleashed upon the public in a responsible society.

I referred earlier to the complicated structure of the Cinematograph Acts, particularly after their heavy amendment. When, as I very much hope, this Bill is enacted it will be even more difficult for anybody but the most expert to find their way through them. This is exactly the sort of field in which consolidating legislation would be helpful, and I can confirm that the Government are examining very seriously whether they can introduce such a Bill in the reasonably near future. For that reason the opportunity has been taken in this Bill, with the agreement of its sponsors, to make various drafting, tidying-up and clarifying provisions. My noble friend has directed your Lordships' attention to examples of these in Clauses 3 and 4. I dare say a number of other drafting amendments may be tabled, for the same reason, during the passage of the Bill through this House, and I hope they will prove acceptable to your Lordships.

The last substantive point to which I would like to refer is the question of whether this Bill will, as has now been suggested is possible, accidentally operate to the disadvantage of legitimate commercial outlets. My noble friend has explained how this impression has arisen, as has the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. I would only like to confirm that it is certainly not the Government's intention that the Bill should operate to bring licensing controls down on the head of someone who, for example, is innocently showing a demonstration video cassette as part of his shop's normal commercial operation. Nor do I think—and here I entirely agree with my noble friend—that the Bill does have this effect.

If we are not careful, specific amendments in order to put this beyond any possible doubt could actually have an effect upon the security of the Bill itself. I think my noble friend was very wise to make no promises on that score. But I can certainly give him the assurance he asked for, and which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, sought, that the Government will give the fullest assistance in seeing whether anything can be done on the face of the Bill to still any misgivings, even though these are, in our view, groundless, or unjustifiable.

This Bill has the Government's support. I hope your Lordships will assist its passage through this House. Private Members' Bills are a little less robust, if I can so put it, than Government legislation, and they need that help. In particular, therefore, I hope that your Lordships will he very sparing indeed of amendments to it. Some for the purposes I have mentioned may be unavoidable. But clearly the more there are, the riskier will be the future of the Bill when it returns to another place. It deserves a place on the statute book. It can protect many of our fellow citizens from affront, and some of them, I believe, from real harm. I therefore wish my noble friend every success, and I commend this Bill to your Lordships' most favourable attention.

Viscount Colville of Culross

My Lords, I cannot speak for them, but I would suspect that the noble Lords, Lord Mishcon and Lord Beaumont of Whitley, will be as pleased as I am myself with the speech to which we have just listened from my noble friend Lord Elton. It gives us the encouragement that I think we all wanted in the furtherance of this measure. It only leaves me with a very few points upon which I think I ought to comment.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has driven me off my epithet "ferocious" and I had better play if safe and be "robust", as my noble friend did. Nevertheless, it is worth drawing your Lordships' attention to the powers under Clause 7(7) whereby, if one is convicted of any of the offences other than the ones to which the maximum £10,000 fine is attached, the court can also revoke the licence. Of course, if you are making your living, or part of your living, out of the licence and the profits we have been talking of, revocation of the licence is a very serious step indeed. So that is not altogether to be overlooked.

As for the high street shops and the other outlets to which he has referred, I have already said that I take this matter seriously. I have looked at, and studied, the letter in The Times, and indeed the other representations that have been made. I have also to take into account the point well made by my noble friend Lord Elton that if we start trying to draft further exemptions it is all to well known that those who wish to evade the provisions of this brand of legislation could well use their ingenuity so as to take advantage of them. Therefore, anything that does go in has really got to be very carefully examined indeed. However, I withdraw in no way the promise that I made to continue looking at this matter.

As for the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, he has provided me with a true conundrum. I entirely appreciate that neither the Liberal Party nor the Alliance are intending to recruit members by the demonstration of films or videos of the nature so vividly described in the course of this debate. But I do at the same time accept that there is the possibility of political parties being tempted to do so and, therefore, I should like to look at the matter.

I see two points immediately although I shall, if I may, consider the matter further. I see two points which I would like the noble Lord to consider. The first is that the formula in subsection (3) is a faithful copy, or at any rate it contains the essence of what we have had in the law on lotteries and gaming since 1962 and in a provision in an Act called the Private Places of Entertainment (Licensing) Act 1967, in both of which, so far as I know, it has worked without any undue difficulty. One has to bear in mind that, if one has a pattern of statute law which sets out a certain formula to achieve a certain object, and Parliament then comes along and passes a new Bill containing a different formula, it tends to throw doubt upon the scope of what has always been accepted as being perfectly understandable and clear in the earlier legislation. I put that marker down because I can see that it could cause difficulties.

I should also like to draw to his attention the point that the exemption in Clause 2(3) is one by way of a defence, and the defence is so phrased that the exhibition is to be claimed not to: be promoted for private gain by reason only that the application of the proceeds for that purpose results in benefit to any person as an individual ". That gives rise to a very substantial argument on the facts, if that argument is merited. I cannot imagine exactly the type of circumstances that the noble Lord has in mind with sufficient accuracy at this moment to be able to give him a detailed answer. But I should have thought that the generality of the defence so expressed would enable the prosecution to deal with something which was patently bogus and was attempting to take advantage of this defence.

Nevertheless, and with the reservations that I have about the earlier legislation being in the same terms, the noble Lord has done me a service in raising this point and I am sure that he has done your Lordships a service in raising this point and I should like to consider it.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, before the noble Viscount proceeds, I should like to ask him a question because he is always so helpful to me on legal matters. The noble Viscount has, of course, appreciated I am sure that the society referred to in subsection (3): is established and conducted wholly for purposes other than purposes of any commercial undertaking''. As I understood the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, his particular plea was for a rather senseless political organisation that, forgetting everything, was merely for the purpose of one function, collecting money, in regard to the showing of a cinema film or video, as it may be. It would, of course, be an organisation (would it not?) that was wholly a noncommercial undertaking if it was a political party.

Viscount Colville of Culross

My Lords, indeed, so. But that does not get them home on the question of the defence, because they have to go further than that; they have to deal with the second limb of subsection (3) to which I have referred. Yes, of course they would pass that test, but I am not so sure that they would necessarily pass the second. I have in mind some of the things that have occurred from time to time in courts presided over by successive Lords Chief Justices when people seek to take advantage of this type of technicality. But let me consider the matter further as I have undertaken to do.

I should like to thank those of your Lordships who have spoken and those who have listened with, I imagine, approval to what we have all been saying. 1 am extremely grateful to my noble friend for his support and for his promises of continued support. I beg to move.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.