HL Deb 02 April 1984 vol 450 cc556-80

Second Reading debate resumed.

8.36 p.m.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, I join with others in congratulating my honourable friend the Member for Luton, South, in having brought forward this Bill. I have in fact met my honourable friend and I know his constituency of Luton. One thing can be said without any degree of doubt: that my honourable friend has benefited nothing by way of any personal gain by bringing forward this Bill. I should like also to congratulate my noble friend Lord Nugent on his very cogent presentation of the Bill.

I happen to have seen these video nasties, as they are rather irritatingly called; in fact they are something worse than video nasties. One in particular—"Faces of Death"—which I certainly have no intention of describing to your Lordships at this late hour, or indeed at any other hour, is, I understand, the only one which is a genuine film. The others are all simulated, but they are none the less horrible or tasteless. This particular film, which deals with monkeys being killed in the most frightful manner, is the one which really caused upset among many grown-up people. The very fact, according to Part 1 of the report on these particular videos, that any children saw this particular film is nothing short of being very disturbing.

I do not possess any video machines. I have a television and a music centre. My elder daughter, paradoxically, has a black and white television set and a video; and through that I managed to see some admirable excerpts from "Yes, Minister". But what we really have to consider àpropos this Bill is, first: are these things really necessary? The answer to that must surely be, no. Do they corrupt people? I believe the answer to that question is, yes. Sex in itself, as portrayed on television or on film, may not be particularly harmful—after all, children learn biology at an early age—but sex combined with violence can be extremely damaging.

I remember some years ago, with the Parliamentary Films Committee, of which I am a member, seeing at a very early hour of the morning "The Clockwork Orange", the first half hour of which was extremely violent and in very bad taste. While I am in no way any supporter of undue censorship. I believe it very unfortunate that that film was not banned. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if that film had been banned it might well be that some of these video nasties, as they are colloquially called, would not even have been made. That is a personal view. It may be right; it may be wrong.

I should like to say a word about the enforcement of this Bill. This is perhaps the point which gives the most cause for concern. Obviously, there will have to be a fairly comprehensive Committee stage—I hope a Committee stage on the Floor of the House, because this is what your Lordships' House exists for, particu- larly on a Bill of this kind. Clause 15 enables entry, search and seizure to take place by police officers with a warrant. Clause 16 enables a constable, if a person who is suspected of possessing these video tapes will not give them up, to arrest him without a warrant. I am not a lawyer and this is no time of the evening to split too many hairs on this point, but it is something which the Government may have to look into as one of the anomalies of the Bill. We must face the fact that all legislation, whether private or public Bills, contains anomalies. What this Bill is to be judged by is whether or not it will benefit the community, and I believe that it will. The video market is a very profitable market.

As has already been said, videos have done a great deal of good in regard to education. People can enjoy music of all kinds through video. It is particularly useful for elderly people and for the handicapped who cannot get out to the theatre, the cinema or the concert hall. What is really sad is where the video market is misused, which is what is happening with the very unpleasant videos. This Bill will make the country as a whole much cleaner than it is with the present legislation, under which children can go into one of these shops and buy any video tape they choose. There can be no guarantee that children who pose as being over 18 will not try to buy these frightful tapes. Equally, youngsters under 18 can go into public houses, but if they are sufficiently tall the manager cannot tell. Human nature is such that one cannot always judge what is right. But this Bill will stiffen the penalties for those who run these shops and who deliberately allow youngsters who are obviously under age to purchase or hire these tapes.

If this Bill goes to a Select Committee, what will that committee be able to undertake? What kind of witnesses will it be able to call? I have discussed this Bill with senior officers from New Scotland Yard. The police are well aware of the contents of this Bill and they will have sufficient powers to work the Bill, so far as it goes. Of course, there are some who feel that the Bill should go much further, and in some ways I agree with them. It must be said that the test of any Bill is its enforcement, but my honourable friend has shown enormous courage in, at least, tackling this subject. If the Bill needs some embellishment and revision, that is a job which your Lordships' House can carry out admirably. It is to be hoped that subsequently the Government themselves, with all the legal and administrative powers behind them, will produce some legislation which is enforceable and which will make this country a cleaner place for us all.

8.47 p.m.

Viscount Ingleby

My Lords, I am very glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, and I should like to congratulate him and say how much I agree with what he has just said. Earlier this afternoon, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, attacked the reliability of the report Video Violence and Children Part II. I had the honour to be the vice-chairman of that group. I should like to read just a very brief extract from paragraph 114, headed "Reliability Checks". It reads: Every effort has been made to ensure the reliability of the research underlying this report. Particular attention has been paid to the reliability and honesty of the children's answers to the questionnaires. Approximately 150 questionnaires were discarded, because they did not fulfil the stringent conditions of reliability that were required in this research. Every questionnaire was checked at least three times and any doubtful ones were subject to careful scrutiny by a panel of experienced teachers. The noble Lord had the opportunity today, had he wished to avail himself of it, of seeing the extracts from video nasties which Scotland Yard were good enough to put on here for us. In view of his strong ctiticisms of this Bill, I am sorry that the noble Lord did not see fit to watch those extracts. I urge your Lordships to support the Bill and to reject the proposed Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby.

8.49 p.m.

Lord Wilson of Langside

My Lords, I am very glad indeed to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, and to have this opportunity to say that I agreed with what he said about this Bill. I ask your Lordships to believe that I had really decided before this debate started that I should direct my opening remarks to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. I now have some hesitation in doing that, but I think I shall just stick to my guns. The last time I had occasion to direct some indignation at the Government's handling of the Scottish end of the sex shops business, I expressed myself frankly and strongly. On that occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, said, as I understood him, that he was surprised that any Scotsman should be a follower of Mrs. Mary Whitehouse. I want to begin by saying, for the avoidance of misunderstanding in the future, that I would regard my personal classification as a supporter of Mrs. Mary Whitehouse as, if not a fate worse than death—

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

Will the noble and learned Lord—

Lord Wilson of Langside

Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to finish my sentence. I shall then sit down and allow him to interrupt me.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

I said nothing of the sort.

Lord Wilson of Langside

If the noble Lord said nothing of the sort, I apologise to him, but usually I listen fairly carefully, and this is what I thought he said. All I want to make clear to him, before we go any further in this debate, is that I would regard my classification as a follower of Mrs. Mary Whitehouse as, if not a fate worse than death, something fairly close to it. That is all I want to make clear, and I apologise to the noble Lord if I misunderstood him on that occasion. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, that the fact that he has never been in either a sex shop or a video shop and has never looked closely at videos and watched recordings does not disqualify him from making speeches on the matter. However, it should not surprise him if his refusal to look at real life makes those of us who listen give less weight to his judgments on the matter than we might otherwise do.

The matter with which this Bill is concerned is one upon which each one of us must reach an individual judgment, on the basis of such evidence as is available to us. All I can say is that, having considered the findings of such research as I have had the time and opportunity to look at, I have no reasonable doubt that the violence depicted through this medium is a factor contributing to the incidence of violence in society. On this I find myself in conflict with some of my liberal friends and acquaintances, of whom I have many in different parties. But where it seems to me that there is room for argument is how important a factor this is. Clearly there are many other factors which explain the violence, such as it is, in our society, and it is not so bad as it is in some other societies. There are many other factors, and clearly there are a number which are more important. However, to assert that this factor has nothing at all to do with it, that it does not matter what children watch, as some researchers, at least according to press reports, have said, and as one of my better loved newspapers, the Observer, said, to my horror, on Sunday, is—I shall not say to fly in the face of common sense, because your common sense is not necessarily mine, but is, I should have thought, surely to fly in the face of the evidence.

As for the effect on the young of watching idiosyncratic sexual activities, this depends a great deal on the young themselves. Some of them might laugh off the crude bits while others might suffer some trauma. But what is certain is that it will not promote their intellectual or emotional growth. It seems not unlikely that it will stunt their growth under both of these heads, and stunted emotional growth is at the root of a great deal of human unhappiness. As we all know, and as I in my professional experience at the Bar and on the Bench know, this is a major contributory factor to much marital unhappiness. It is not the only factor but it is a major factor.

All I want to say, except for one other matter, is that, starting from that standpoint, I see this medium as one which must be controlled. I ask myself whether this Bill is the best way to do it. I should like to see it strengthened. I thought that the right reverend Prelate, who I am glad to see is in his place, was less than fair to my noble friend Lord McGregor of Durris, who referred at the opening of his speech to the need for co-operation between the Government and the industry. It would be a pity if the possibility of re-establishing co-operation in this quarter, as well as seeing the Bill through and strengthening it, should be retarded because of disagreement with the point of view which my noble friend put forward and meant that we lost sight of the desirability of achieving a close working relationship between the industry and the Government.

There is a great deal else that I should like to say. Apart from having visited sex shops, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, I have had some close experience of dealing with the video industry. It set up, in the small, peaceful little village of 700 or so inhabitants where I live a video shop. I was happy to be instrumental in seeing that video shop done away with. There was much unpleasantness and a certain amount of Clochemerle-type amusement involved in the exercise, but we won and the proprietor has gone, and as far as I know he will not be back. I wish this Bill every success.

8.58 p.m.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, before proceeding to the subject in hand, may I add my congratulations, to those of others to the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, for a distinguished maiden speech. I am sure that we shall all look forward with great pleasure to hearing him on many occasions in the future.

As to the matter before us. everyone who has at heart the moral and psychological welfare of our children—more, anyone who has at heart the reputation of this land—will join me in congratulating my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford on having stepped forward to sponsor the Bill of the honourable Member for Luton South in your Lordships' House after its successful passage through the other place. For many years past I have been the noble Lord's lieuten-ant, if I may so call myself, in the context of the evil we have jointly sought to repress. Therefore I stand by him unconditionally this evening in the context of this Second Reading of the Bill which he sponsors. I want to see it on the statute book unamended and, if I may borrow a phrase made famous by Lord Beaverbrook many years ago, I want to see it there yesterday. By all means let us probe it in Committee, but, for heaven's sake, let our amendments be withdrawn.

This is no time for playing ping pong and returning the Bill to the other place amended, where, as my noble friend Lady Saltoun has so earnestly commended to your Lordships, it may have the result, amended, of destroying the rather delicate balance of Ayes and Noes in the other place, leaving it lost, a casualty of the parliamentary rules.

It is precious; neither the first step nor the last in placing a public mischief under control, yet achieving a step forward on the right road. There have been others covering such topics as paedophilia, protecting children, and covering indecent displays. None of them finalised this problem. Each of them narrows down the area to be controlled and this Bill, too, makes its contribution to the process of refinement. Let us remember when we come to Committee that old adage: the better is the enemy of the good.

Do not let us mistake the enemy. It is not pornography. It is that bruised reed the Obscene Publications Act 1959. Do not let us excuse ourselves for our part therein. We yielded and reacted to a lobby—it was no more than that—initiated by the publishing houses to clarify the operation of the common law in relation to obscene publications. No one knew in advance of a prosecution how the common law would be interpreted in a particular case. So by statute we declared it inoperative and substituted a statute. That statute was disaster. No one now knows what it does or does not proscribe any more than they knew what the common law did or did not proscribe before its day. Its effect has been totally permissive. If a jury convicts on a 50 per cent. basis it is only because the law is so obscure that it cannot possibly understand the exposition by the Bench and the final result is as if one tossed a coin—heads or tails.

It is directly responsible for the apparent—I stress the word "apparent"—poor track record of the British Board of Film Censors by placing it in an impossible position. How can it censor what the court has declared to be legal? It has been put in this position but I am sure that if we take it out of it and give it the authority of the Act which this Bill foreshadows its members will respond, as people do respond when they are given responsibility, and we shall get some form of censorship.

Why do I so emphasise the time factor in this matter? The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, asks for evidence. I will give him some. He does not believe the 40 per cent. I will prove the 40 per cent. conditionally. There is a little townships in rural Suffolk where my grand-daughters aged 12 and 14 can book video cassettes charged to my daughter's credit account for a weekend's enjoyment. Their mother, of course, inspects what they carry off and recently intercepted them carrying home, what do you think? It was one of the video nasties which was displayed to the honourable members in another place and displayed to many of your Lordships during the lunch hour today. The only reason that she intercepted them was that she read the title of the work and recognised it as similar to one of the titles that had made honourable members in the other place throw up.

The fact that my grandchildren—two out of five in this country; I am not going to falsify the statistics by reference to overseas—escaped seeing those disgusting presentations was owing to the fact that this Bill had just had its First Reading in the other place and because of the police demonstration of these video nasties. So there we have two out of five. The noble Lord can do his own artihmetic. He will find that it is 40 per cent. He may not believe it, but I do. That is why I want to see this Bill on the statute book. I see the noble Lord is shaking his head. He would.

It is quite interesting to follow this up. My daughter, of course, rebuked the shop from whence the video tape originated and told the shop never again to issue such an outrage but it promptly did so with another one a week later. On renewing her rebuke it transpired that the shopkeeper, a product of our permissive age, had no holding place in his mind for such concepts of what was decent, suitable, fitting, or proper—all these adjectives bearing on value judgments—or any similar abstraction. His outlook was simply that of a confectioner who had been told, "Do not provide my children with sweets that are suitable only for adults". What could he reply? He would say, "How could I do that, they are all chocolates aren't they?" These were all just cassettes.

I have spent the weekend in reading the Second Reading, nine Committee stages, Report and Third Reading of the Bill in the other place. It took me 16 hours of attentive concentration. But I emerged feeling that I knew my way round the Bill and the arguments ventilated thereon. I want to deal with two typical misunderstandings which seem to me to be open. In one there is an animadversion on the absurdity of refusing us the right to see in our own homes what we can see in the cinema. That is a complete obfuscation of the reality. Let me restate it in these terms. The Bill protects our children from seeing in their own homes what the law forbids them to see in a public place. To achieve this the parents pay the price of seeing whatever it may be in the cinema rather than in their homes. That is what the Bill provides for. Is it a very high price to pay to safeguard the psychology and psychological development of our children?

The second misunderstanding concerns the status of 18R cassettes viewable only in sex clubs and sex shops and purchasable only in sex shops. Let us be clear on what we are talking about—18R films or 18R cassettes? Of course, the 18R film can be dubbed onto a tape but it does not automatically become an 18R recording. This is where I think my noble friend Lord Robertson and I might possibly have a talk later, although I entirely agree with his criticisms of the objectionable passages in "The Jewel in the Crown". Remembering that a cassette may be viewed in the home, as provided by the Act, it may be refused classification at all. As a film it may be 18R in a sex shop but released as a cassette it may be refused any classification whatever, and trading in it under the counter would attract a penalty of up to £20,000. They may be duplicates of one another but just as there are two media—film and cassette—so there are two standards. There is the standard applicable for viewing in a sex shop and the standard applicable for viewing in a home.

I have nearly had the 10 minutes to which I restrict myself—although I am still under nine minutes—but since the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, took 25 minutes to expound his own views perhaps your Lordships in your charity would give me another five minutes to rebut some of what he said. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and I are old friends in private and very often opponents across the Floor of the House in public. Hard words break no bones and if your Lordships think that anything I say about him is harsh you should look at the Hansard index and see some of the things he has said about me in years gone by. He typifies the opposition to any sort of Bill at all and I am sorry but think that he has prejudiced his integrity in this matter—by implication condemning what he has not read and defending what he has not seen. I saw the video film this afternoon so as not to put myself in that position. It was not that I wanted to see it and from time to time I turned my back on it because I found the faces of the audience—I was sitting in the front row—and the expressions of disgust on them rather more interesting than the video cassette reproduction.

The noble Lord has always refused to recognise the difference between freedom For and freedom From and the potential conflict between them, the resolution of which must depend upon an act of judgment. He refuses to make that act of judgment. He mounts his pedestal which he thinks is labelled "Freedom" and like Ajax defying the lightning says: Come one, come all. This rock shall fly From its firm base as soon as I". But it is not a rock. It is a lump of concrete in which he has become immobilised, and it is not labelled "Freedom"; it is labelled "Fossilised Voltaire".

What is it that Voltaire is actually supposed to have said? Nobody really knows whether he said it or not. It is: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it". Let us have no humbug about this. Voltaire never defended anything to the death. When he made life too hot for himself in France, he came to London or he went to Berlin and made friends with Frederick the Great; and he died peacefully in his bed, aged 84, like Bernard Shaw did 200 years after him—another pseudo-revolutionary. These obiter dicta fossilise when we repeat them ad nauseam without regard to whatever context might give them significance.

What Voltaire said was, "I disapprove of what you say". Here to some extent I am going to follow the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers—"What you say—say". Dirty or violent pictures "say" nothing. They express no proposition that can be true or false. They express no deduction that can follow from premises and no assertion that can be regarded as comprehensible or the reverse. They are not a form of self-expression which is protected by an international convention on the subject.

Go to Barking or Crossness (which are the northern and southern outfalls of London's drainage system).There you will see rivers of sewage which also say nothing, express nothing and from which no deduction can be drawn; nothing which can be comprehensible or incomprehensible. They are simply part of the facts—the rather malodorous facts—of nature which require no protection by an international convention or anything of the kind. Such are video nasties.

So take your dirty picture, tear it up and put it in the waste-paper basket with a good conscience if it offends you; or, alternatively, if you get some perverted excitement out of it, use it as an aid to whatever the residue of your conscience permits, but do not—only do not—leave it lying about for your children to light upon it by accident. Such is my counsel. If it makes sense to your Lordships then vote for the Bill and vote down the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, to have a Select Committee, which is merely a wrecking proposal, because the time delay will make it quite impossible for this Bill to find its way onto the statute book. That is what I shall do, and I hope that your Lordships will follow my counsel in this matter.

9.11 p.m.

Viscount Buckmaster

My Lords, it gives me the greatest pleasure to join other noble Lords in welcoming the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, in tabling the Bill. Like other Members of your Lordships' House, I was present this afternoon at the showing, arranged by my noble friend Lord Ingleby, of some of the video nasties. I share the full revulsion which my noble friends Lady Saltoun and Lord Halsbury and other noble Lords have expressed at these horrible things. I feel that this Bill is wholly necessary.

But I would put this to your Lordships: admirable though this Bill may be, I feel that what we really need to counteract the growing menace of pornography, of which these video nasties are only one facet, is a comprehensive pornography Bill such as the Dissemination of Pornography Bill which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, introduced almost exactly two years ago; it was in fact on 25th March 1982. I feel that that Bill should, if possible, be re-enacted. Indeed, I feel that it should not be regarded as a ship which has sunk without trace, but rather as a great and stately vessel, which has inevitably for the past two years remained immobilised on the mud flats, but which will in the fullness of time, her timbers restored and repaired and her sails enlarged (so that the Bill may include such material as we are discussing tonight), take to the high seas, with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, on the bridge and my noble friend Lord Halsbury at the tiller.

When speaking on the Second Reading of that Bill, I expressed to your Lordships two views—one that, however harmful pornography might be to us in this country, it was doubly so to Moslems and others who hold—how shall I put it?—rather stronger religious views than many of us here. Perhaps I could remind your Lordships that there are now in this country 1¼ million Moslems—more Moslems than Methodists or Jews. I also said that our preoccupation with pornography was damaging our standing in the Moslem world, and particularly in the Arab world. If that view were true two years ago, I would say it is doubly so now.

I have just returned from a visit to the United Arab Emirates, and there I became conscious of the growing force of the Islamic revivalist movement. As many of your Lordships know, this movement is based on what Moslems see as a need to return to the basic principles of Islam to counter moral evils. This great revival is gradually gathering momentum. It has in fact had as its catalyst—I think this is the most important point of all—what Moslems see as the growing cancer of pornography, sex, drugs, drink and so on, which is gradually, in their view, eating away at the whole moral fibre of our society.

One may say that they need not concern themselves about what goes on in the West, but they have told me—and I think they have some justification for saying this—that the corruption which they see in the West is gradually spreading to their own countries. Indeed, I have seen this myself. When I was on my recent visit to the United Arab Emirates I asked for friends whom I had met 20 or 30 years ago, only to be told that they had died in Britain: they had died, not, of course, of pornography; no, they had died from the effects of drink and drugs, which many Moslems consider are connected with those other manifestations.

St. Paul tells us that, a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump". No one would say that the leaven of pornography will leaven the whole lump of society, but I think it perhaps leavens a larger part of that lump than many of us would like to admit. Here, perhaps, I might say that such things as evil, pornography and the sordid, the salacious and the seamy have an appeal which many of us find almost impossible to resist.

It is for this reason that the Moslems feel that the most stringent controls should be imposed upon the lives of their people. These controls are, of course, to our way of thinking, draconian and illiberal, but they feel that they are desirable; and one only has to travel in that area to see that there is no overt pornography at all—nothing which would in any way offend the eye.

One of the most moving experiences I had on this recent trip was to listen to the chief Qadi of Abu Dhabi—the man who is, I suppose, equivalent to our Archbishop of Canterbury. I heard him denouncing, in his superb classical Arabic, what he saw as the corrupting evils of the West. As I listened to this great man, in his flowing robes and with his white beard, I felt I was listening to a modern Jeremiah. How I wish—and I must be forgiven for saying this—that we could sometimes hear from our own clerics a denunci-ation of moral evils to match those of this great man!

This brings me to my last point, and it is this. However effective the legislation may be that we pass in your Lordships' House and in another place, I feel very strongly that the fight against pornography and other associated evils can only be won with greater support from our Church—our established Church and the non-established Churches. Here, perhaps, I may say that the newly-established Christian Broadcasting Council of Great Britain, of which I am happy to be the honorary treasurer, may, when it gets going, as I hope it will soon, play a positive role in countering pornography and in bringing a wider range of Christian programmes to listeners throughout Britain.

I think all of your Lordships will agree that the fight against pornography must be unrelenting. In this Bill we have a powerful new addition to our armoury, and therefore it gives me the greatest pleasure to give this Bill my wholehearted support.

9.20 p.m.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, it is getting late and so I shall try to be as quick as I can. If I may, I want to follow the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, for whom, may I say at this stage, I have a very great deal of respect. He has always been a supporter of liberty, as I am myself. However, I feel that with regard to the report on video nasties and children that was brought out by a working party of which I had the honour to be chairman, the noble Lord has been misled. He admitted himself that he did not have the time to read all of the report and was relying on other people's advice. I suspect that interests who stand to lose very considerably in the financial field may well have been putting out information on the research to try to discredit it. That is quite understandable and quite natural. If any of us feel that we are going to lose a considerable income, then we want to stop that threat.

I should like to refer to the article in The Times on 30th of last month that the noble Lord himself quoted. That article itself is inaccurate. It refers to Dr. Clifford Hill of Oxford Polytechnic. He is not a member of the polytechnic and, so far as I know, never has been. From my calculations the five classes of 11-year-olds mentioned, given an average of 30 to a class, which may be a little low, would give a total sample of only 150. The researchers who carried out the project upon which the report, Video Violence and Children has been produced had a sample in excess of 7,000—that is, parents as well as children, though mainly children.

In The Times article the two people who are said to have carried out research into the accuracy of the report say that they have used our questionnaire, which I do not think they could have done; it has not been made public. There was a shortened version which excluded some of the vital details on the methodology, and without those details biased results very likely—almost certainly—would have been given.

We were as a research team—or rather those who carried out the research, because though I was chairman I did not do any myself—very well aware of the difficulties of obtaining reliable information from children, and therefore a number of reliability checks and honesty checks were built into the research and any doubtful questionnaire was discarded. Those of your Lordships who have had an opportunity of reading the methodology section of the report will have seen that the questionnaires that were doubtful were examined in detail by, I think, three teachers, and if there was any dubiety they were thrown out, it being felt better to reduce the sample rather than the reliability.

At the same time, recorded interviews were held with the children by not only teachers but also researchers, to make certain that they knew what they were talking about when they filled in the question-naires. When one is fairly small it is all too easy to tick or circle a number on a questionnaire without really knowing what one is doing. Therefore, as a reliability check, they were asked to describe what went on in some of the videos. All the questionnaires were filled in during class time under the supervision of teachers so that there was no opportunity for collaboration between children.

There was a matched sample between parents and children so that we were able to check that our sample bore a relationship throughout the whole country to the class structure. So far as I can see from the article in The Times, it would appear that there was only one age range used and all from one area, which again would give biased results.

To return to the Bill, I recommend it thoroughly. It has been suggested that we do not need a Bill and that all this can be done with purely voluntary control. I do not think so. Human nature is very powerful and the love of money will warp a lot of minds. It is very easy to make cheap video films. They may not be particu-larly good but they will be fairly cheap. I understand that it is not an expensive business to reproduce and copy videos. A large number can therefore be produce at extremely reasonable cost. I do not believe that by continuing with voluntary control, which is the system that we are really working under and which shows no control at all, video nasties or other types of unpleasant and unsatisfactory videos will die out. They will not; they will continue to proliferate.

I appreciate very much that the British Board of Film Censors has a great deal of experience in censoring films. I wonder, however, whether its expertise, which is designed for the cinema where children of certain ages, or of certain apparent ages, can be excluded, will necessarily apply to the home. Without wanting to change the Bill in this respect at this stage, I hope that the Government of whatever persuasion, in power now or in the future, will keep this point in mind so that, if necessary, a different board can be produced to keep an eye on videos.

With the exception of the fines under Clauses 9 and 10 of the Bill, the fines for contravention are at Level 5—at the moment £ 1,000 and due, I understand, to go up soon to £2,000. In my view, this may not be enough. I wonder whether another look can be taken at this matter.

9.28 p.m.

Lord Aylestone

My Lords, I, too, wish to add my congratulations to the honourable Member of another place who introduced this Bill. I understand that he was fortunate in the ballot and gave up a very good position in the ballot to introduce what is a somewhat controversial Bill and perhaps a difficult Bill for a Back-Bench Member to handle. I congratulate him and wish him every success with the Bill. Some congratulations are also due to the Government for finding time for the measure, although a slight tap on the wrist might be appropriate as the Bill is brought to us just three parliamentary days after it was first seen in the Vote Office. That is hardly sufficient time. Nevertheless, there is the Committee stage to come. Much as I want to see the Bill go through, I feel that there are one or two issues which, if not necessarily requiring strengthening, at least need clarification. I have no doubt that this will be forthcoming.

What we are discussing in the Bill are not videos generally but video nasties. Very little has been said during the debate about the very good video cassettes that are made that entertain, inform and educate. The Bill is concerned with the so-called video nasties. I have a video recorder at home. I think it was the prototype of the first Phillips, and while it is not actually functioning on steam it is a very early electrical one and, therefore, it is quite incapable of taking the modern videos.

I was going to say that I was forced, but perhaps I should say that I was persuaded to see the productions that Scotland Yard made available to us. Having seen them, it was enough, and I do not want to see any more. But seeing those extracts was important. They are way out; they are more extreme than anything we can see in a cinema anywhere in this country. A great deal is said about what it is possible to see in the cinemas in Soho and in other parts of the country, but there is nothing as extreme as what we saw in those samples.

I accept, too, that the classification 18 videos, which may be seen in the cinemas quite freely if one is 18 years of age and over, are themselves sometimes borderline cases and perhaps are nearer some of the nasties than anything in the other direction. But whatever one does, one has to draw a line somewhere, and probably the Bill proposes to draw the line in the right place. We must accept that these extremely objectionable (I am trying to find other adjectives) videos that one can freely buy or pay £ 1 to see over the weekend can be obtained from garages, barbers' shops, shops with painted black windows—I will pass one going home tonight—sex shops, street corner shops and, indeed, almost anywhere. New video banks are being built up all over the place. We must understand that it is the responsible retailers who suffer as a result, because not only is their business affected but they cannot themselves possibly be aware of the contents of the video cassette, because the title is so very often misleading.

Speaking for myself, I do not personally like censorship of any sort, whether it be of books, films, or the theatre. But so far as these things are concerned, all I can say is that it is not a question of censorship where they are concerned: they just must go. They are horrors, and one cannot describe them in any other way. When one appreciates that rather more than one home in four in this country has an up to date video recorder—quite unlike mine—and there is a complete lack of control over the lending or the purchase of these horrible things, there is a real danger of them getting into the home quite unintentionally and unwittingly. The family settle down, because they have been persuaded by a title, to see a video, only to find that it is so horrible and so nasty as to be beyond belief.

It is quite true that the producers and retailers can be prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act. I do not have the actual figures, but I think I am right in saying that in something approaching 70 prosecutions there have only been less than five convictions because it is very difficult to get a conviction. The police are not to blame for that; perhaps we are to blame as regards the Act that we passed earlier.

I am of the opinion that if the British Board of Film Censors be the designated body to undertake the classification job, one should first remember that they are a film body: that they are the competitors of the video manufacturers: they are a film-controlling body; they are self-appointed, and they are self-regulatory. It would perhaps be better if, when it comes to designating the authority to do the job, we have in mind something quite outside the video manufacturers or outside the film manufacturers. I know that I am going to be accused immediately of setting up yet another quango, but I think that it would probably prove to be safer.

I do not think the Government themselves should become directly involved in censorship; but in a remote way, as they are with the BBC and the IBA, they should have control over the whole operation without actually being involved with the content of the video or, or in case of the BBC and the IBA, being concerned with programmes. As has been said, if the BBC and IBA were to overstep the mark in any respect whatever, if necessary the Government can always replace them. I think that that is as remote and as near as one should get: that the body which is designated, whoever it may be, should be given the job of classification.

The responsible retailers are as anxious to get a Bill of this sort as anyone else. But I hope that I have made myself clear that the extreme nasties must go and that, in a sense, we should always be careful about trying to censor people in their own homes. This Bill does not quite do that, but it tries to get into the position where it is impossible to take anything into a home which ought to be censored. I believe that that is sufficient. It should help the parents to do a job that they themselves ought to do as regards having parental control over their children.

Before I sit down I should like to make one Committee point, and the rest can wait until we reach the Committee stage. I would very largely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, said about the BBC and the IBA, but I do not entirely agree with him. I would agree that we do not want double censorship. Anything that is controlled under the Government statutory body, the BBC, and the IBA, is already censored, is already controlled, and there is no need for double jeopardy. I would agree with that. But in the case of an IBA company deciding to go into the business of producing video cassettes for normal sale or rental, as distinct from anything that it may show on the television screen, it should come under the classification. But certainly that would not apply where the product has been shown on television by one company or another.

I hope that this Bill will become law. I and my friends on these Benches will do everything possible to help it. But the important thing is that when it does become law it should work.

9.38 p.m.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, althought I am speaking from this privileged postion, I am speaking entirely for myself and I am afraid that I am less in agreement with some of my noble friends than I am with other speakers in the debate. I cannot be happy about any Bill which brings Government into censorship. I profoundly regret that the video industry did not set up its own voluntary censorship and secure the recognition which the film censors have secured. Either the industry was too slow or the Government too quick off the mark. Therefore, we have this Bill to which I give general support.

The Government are keeping censorship at arm's length. They are using the established voluntary body, but it is the Government which will designate additional members, and Parliament will debate the annual report. Fortunately, the nucleus of the designated body—the British Board of Film Censors—has a liberal reputation and I am unaware of its having incurred criticism for religious or political prejudice.

This is an imperfect Bill, despite the careful consideration given to it in another place by a diligent committee that proved to be liberal and full of common sense. It is an imperfect Bill because of the conflict between our desire to protect children from moral and emotional harm and disturbance and our desire not to deprive adults of their full freedom to see what they wish to see in the privacy of their own homes. That conflict is inevitable, not only because some parents are careless but also because some thrusting children will inevitably find what their parents have carefully hidden from them.

Some children, though not all, are extremely cunning and extremely prurient, and there is usually one such child in every peer group and he may well find an opportunity of both showing off to his chums and providing them with clandestine performances of sexy videos. The children cannot wholly be sheltered from the world as it is, even when we shut them away in reformatories and boarding schools. The pornographer, at least with his magazines, will, I am afraid, always get through.

What we are basically trying to do in this Bill is to safeguard the children from the worst of evils, sadistic obscenity. There is no liberal justification at all for this kind of work. It is degrading to man. It must be banned and, when discovered, burned. It can only disgust the normal adult for it goes beyond the worst imagining even of our most horrific nightmares.

The argument about how many children have seen these videos is really irrelevant. It is the potential danger, and it is the damage they do to adults that makes this banning, this proscription, absolutely necessary. We have, thank heaven, got away from the hypocrisy of pretending that people's values and their subsequent actions are not affected by what they read, or what they see reproduced in pictorial form. It may be difficult to find a causal connection, but the broadcasting authorities are aware that violence on the screen may, at the very least, appear to inspire violence in those who view, and nothing is lost by rationing the violence and by toning it down, as the broadcasting companies have done in recent years.

During the past 20 or 30 years we have had two revolutions. One is in communications. The child in the remote village in the provinces can see every day what a minority of adults in the capital once were able to see only occasionally. At the same time as this revolution in communications has gone on we have removed certain restraints on public speech and published images. We have broken taboos in the past 20 years or so which had existed for centuries; and to some extent we are the gainers for it. At last we can read and see the way that men and women really live their lives, and this is an aid to our humanity.

There was a small play on television the other night called "Raspberry" which presented two young women in adjacent beds, one preparing for an abortion and the other one for an operation that might make her fertile. It was the kind of moving play about the plight of women which every insensitive man should see, and yet 30 years ago it could not have been produced in even the most avant garde theatre club.

But of course the revolution has not been all gain. There has been a spate of pornography and it has had to be checked, as we have done, say, by checking the public display. Now the medium of television has been extended by video. In the cinema the films are classified by their suitability for various age groups, and there are some films so way out that they can be seen only in sex shops or in certain club cinemas.

Now it seems to be proposed to classify video cassettes after the fashion of films and by the same experienced body. That, my Lords, is a wise and acceptable decision. People have need to know what they are buying or what they are hiring. The case of the excellent play, "The History Man" was quoted in the other place. It would be an unfortunate parent, not knowing what the play was about, who bought it thinking that it might help his child with O-level history. What we need to ensure is that the viewing of adults is not unduly restricted in their own homes, any more than they are restricted in the cinema. The sadistic horrors are, of course, ruled out of all places, and ruled out completely.

Then there are these pornographic films, these 18R films, which are to be seen only in sex shops and a few cinemas. The videos from them will be purchasable only in the sex shops. I should like the Minister to say clearly that, apart from the 18R films, the censors will have roughly the same standards for the home as they have for the cinema. It will not be tolerated by the public if what they could see in the ordinary cinema was not visible, at least by adults, in their own homes.

There are one or two things in the Bill which require further inspection, particularly the failure to relieve the broadcasting companies of the need to submit programmes which they have put out. If they make cassettes of these programmes they will have to submit them to censorship. I suppose that all this arises because some programmes are put out only in the hours when children are expected to be in bed. A vast task has been given to the censors because once the companies begin to make cassettes of programmes they have previously broadcast there will be a considerable backlog. I see no reason why the broadcasting companies should not be trusted to classify their own material so that the man selling them in the shops and the people buying them can make the same judgment as they can about those which have gone through the normal censorship process.

We can have a useful Committee stage. I thought at first that my noble friend's idea that the Bill should go to a Select Committee was a good one, but that was before I read the careful consideration, the very long consideration, and sensible consideration that was given to the Bill in another place. Now I think that we should be able to examine this Bill in Committee. It will be an Act of imperfect compromise, but perhaps we can make it a little less imperfect as we go through the Committee stage.

9.49 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I have a long course to get round and your Lordships will not want me to take long in getting round it. I have a careful note of the concerns of each of your Lordships, but your Lordships will forgive me if I therefore do not mention every name of those who took part in the debate. One name, however, I have no intention of omitting and that is the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, who made a trenchant and very able contribution. I look forward to hearing further from him both on this Bill and on frequent future occasions.

I am very glad to welcome this bill on behalf of the Government and to congratulate my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford for bringing it to this House. It is especially appropriate that it should be he who introduces it, as he has campaigned vigorously for tighter controls on pornography and obscenity for many years and we have grown quite accustomed to thinking of him as a champion of the cause of decency in this House.

I should also like to pay tribute to my honourable friend Mr Graham Bright, who piloted the Bill through the proceedings in another place. He has worked tirelessly and with boundless energy to master its detail, to meet and consult interested bodies and to fashion it into a widely acceptable instrument. It is a measure of his skill—and that of my energetic colleague, Mr David Mellor, who has been extremely active in this matter—that the Bill reaches us today with substantially all-party support.

Video recorders, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield, the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, and the British Videogram Association have been at pains to make clear, can be the source of a great deal of honest entertainment, and much extremely good material has always been available for showing on them. Nonetheless, I believe that the need for the Bill is widely understood. A year or two ago, anyone using the expression "video nasties" in this Chamber would have been met by blank looks. Things have changed since then.

By how much they have changed I learned at first hand when, with many other Members of this House, I watched an exhibition of extracts from some of the material with which we are concerned, arranged by my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford. I was appalled and I was disgusted, as were many of your Lordships with whom I shared that experience.

To the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, I would say that until one has actually seen some of this material for oneself it really is (as my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve has said), impossible to imagine the depths of disgusting depravity to which a minority of producers, directors and actors are prepared to stoop in bringing to our screens material which can have no possible artistic or other justification at all. Whatever their motives, the results are evil. The vehicles or containers in which they are delivered are not always readily identifiable. Some of these sick productions proclaim themselves by lurid titles and labels, and that gives some sort of warning of what they will put on the screen. But, in others, quite appalling material can be found on cassettes with innocent-sounding titles. They are available to children as well as to adults and they can play and replay them as often as they wish. That can be a deeply disturbing experience even for an adult. For children, these recordings seem to me to be so many anti-personnel mines, innocent in appearance but packed with horror, from which they ought to be protected.

The noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, regretted that they could not be protected by voluntary means. I should like to acknowledge the efforts made earlier by the British Videogram Association to establish a voluntary scheme for the classification of video recordings for home viewing. A voluntary scheme would certainly have been better than no controls at all; but the voluntary scheme, as my noble friend Lord Swinfen reminded us, would have applied only to those who chose to participate. Like the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, I do not believe that the unscrupulous minority of the video industry which has no qualms about supplying even the most objectionable material would have felt bound by this scheme.

Accordingly, let me remind the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, that we announced in our manifesto for the last general election our intention to introduce some form of statutory control in this area and I hope that he will take that and the rest of what I have to say as underlying the support for this Bill which the Government give and of which he stood in doubt.

We have welcomed the Bill which is before us today. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, in spite of his reservation, has said that it is a necessary Bill and that we should not seek to resist it. I take heart also that even the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, recognises that by the means we have chosen we shall keep censorship at least at arm's length from Government.

A first necessity is to identify the material with which we are concerned so that it can be properly handled. The Bill proposes a system of classification. Subject to the exemptions set in Clauses 2 and 3, all video material will have to be classified before it can be supplied commercially. The worst will simply be refused a classification certificate. It will be unlawful therefore to supply it. As for the rest, it is intended to use the various categories into which the British Board of Film Censors currently place films when they classify them for the cinema.

Clause 7 makes provision accordingly. It is proposed that video works suitable for classification will be placed in one of the following categories: "UC", specially recommended for children; "U", suitable for children; "PG", suitable for children with parental guidance; "15" and "18", not suitable for children under the age in question; and "Restricted 18", unsuitable for persons under the age of 18 and to be supplied only in licensed sex shops.

The process of video classification will be independent of film classification, but it seems to us proper to use labels with which people are familiar, yet to ensure that those applying the labels shall take into account the likelihood of the labelled goods being seen in the home. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, will find this provision in Clause 4(l)(a) of the Bill together with Clause 4(1)(b)(i). For the rest, perhaps I should rely on his forthcoming talk with the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury.

The Bill regulates the supply of video recordings by making it an offence to supply, to offer to supply or to possess for supply a video recording containing an unclassified video work. It also makes it an offence to supply or to offer to supply a video recording in contravention of the conditions attaching to a certificate issued in respect of the work contained on the recording.

The Bill empowers the Home Secretary to make regulation requiring the video recording and its case to be clearly labelled with indications of the classification of the video work that it contains. That will tell the customer about the sort of material he may expect to find on a particular cassette or tape. Perhaps the shopkeeper friend of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, can be taught to recognise the significance of those classifications.

I believe that this will be widely welcomed, especially by parents. At the present, not only may children get hold of material which is manifestly unsuitable for them, but, in the main, parents have little or no guidance about whether a particular production is suitable for them to watch with their children or for them to buy or hire for their children to watch alone. This will allow people to see at a glance the age group for which the designated authority considers the production to be suitable. This will benefit customers and parents and, of course, it will benefit retailers too, for not even the most assiduous retailer can at present be expected to know what sort of material is contained on all the many thousands of productions already available on video.

The noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, in his notable maiden speech regretted that material wholly unsuitable for children was uncontrolled when once it was sold, and he was joined in that most eloquently by my noble friend Lord Ferrers and others. As my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford has told your Lordships, there was an extensive debate during the Committee proceedings in another place on the question of whether the classification "Restricted 18" should be permitted under the Bill. My honourable friend David Mellor made clear that in the Government's view videos containing this sort of material should not be capable of classification under the arrangements set out in the Bill. An amendment to this effect was, however, defeated in Committee by a decisive majority, and we clearly need to have regard to that.

However, at Report stage in another place the Bill was amended to ensure that "Restricted 18" videos could not be supplied in any premises except licensed sex shops. Furthermore, the Bill was also amended to make it quite clear that in classifying material under the Bill special regard must be paid to the likelihood of video works being viewed in the home.

The Government therefore believe that a compromise has been achieved on this issue which has found favour across a broad spectrum of opinion. On the basis of that compromise this Bill can proceed. The compromise is on a matter about which individual Members of your Lordships' House have very strong views indeed. Those views differ, but if your Lordships wish the Bill to proceed I hope you will be aware of the risks to which you will be putting it if you seek to open up that compromise and alter it. A difference on this matter with another place could very well result in our getting no Bill at all, and I doubt whether your Lordships would think that was a risk worth taking.

Classifications of recordings will be a central function under the Bill. As your Lordships will be aware, Clause 4 of the Bill empowers the Secretary of State to designate any person or persons as the authority responsible for making arrangements for it to be done and for maintaining the necessary records. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has already announced that if Parliament grants him these powers he intends to designate the principal officers of the British Board of Film Censors so that classification of video works can be done by the board's examiners.

In so doing, he will be designating the officers of a body which, I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, has over 70 years' experience in work of a very similar nature, and which has the support, I am glad to note, of many of your Lordships, including the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. He asked me why it was not on the face of the Bill. The British Board of Film Censors lack the necessary legal status to appear on the face of the Bill, and that is why it is the principal officers of the board whom it is proposed to designate. I do not doubt at all that the noble Lord will return to this issue to tease me in Committee, because it is a difficult point.

The work that they will be required to do will be complex and difficult and the board's decisions are exposed to the whole width of public opinion. I am speaking of the board as it is now constituted. There are, I dare say, few topics on which the extremes of opinions are further apart or more vehemently held. And the medium of the moving picture presents such a variety of problems to those who seek to classify them, that all of their decisions are bound to attract criticisms from some of us and all of us will differ with some of their decisions.

But, by and large, I believe that they have a wide measure of public support and confidence. In that, I quote the fact that it is for the local authorities for the different areas in Great Britain to decide what may be shown in the cinemas, but almost universally they rely on the judgment of the board. But video is not the same as film and, if the British Board of Film Censors are designated under the Bill, they fully recognise, as do both the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and my right honourable friend, that this will involve a change of role.

My honorable friend Mr. David Mellor has had a number of discussions with the board, and the board themselves have suggested a number of changes to their structure and constitution to import a greater degree of accountability into the work which they will be taking on. We have been impressed by both the sense and the sensitivity which the British Board of Film Censors and their president, my noble friend Lord Harlech, have shown in these matters.

To meet the increased load of work generated by this legislation it is proposed to strengthen the management of the board by the appointment of two or more vice-presidents. The board will also need to take on additional examiners. In recruiting these, the board will no doubt wish to ensure that the examiners are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds and professions. I cannot answer for whether the board will rotate them as my noble friend suggested, but I am sure that that opinion will be read and considered.

The third step will be the appointment of an appeals panel, as provided for in Clause 4(3) of the Bill. We recognise that the board will be tackling a new medium and a new audience. Neither we nor they feel that this is something to be done lightly, nor should any risk be courted of being out of touch with those who are closely affected by this measure. A fourth step, therefore, will be to set up a broadly based consultative council representing a wide cross-section of society, and including representatives of both the video industry and other interested bodies.

This will provide a forum for discussing with the board issues arising out of work under this Bill, and the council will advise the board on the way they carry out their proposed duties. As the designated authority under Clause 5 of the Bill, the principal officers of the board will be required to submit an annual report to the Secretary of State and to lay a copy of each report before each House of Parliament. I do not think that that is bringing Government into censorship.

The legitimate video industry has nothing to fear and everything to gain from this Bill. It will inform retailers and customers of the sort of things contained in the recordings. It will sweep away those who do not know what is on their shelves, because they will now know what is on their shelves, and it will sweep off the shelves those works which ought not to be on the shelves at all, even from those who knowingly would be prepared otherwise to sell them; and any who persist in dealing in such works will commit an offence under the Bill and thereby face fines of up to £20,000.

We must accept that certain aspects of the video industry have acquired a rather tatty image over the last year or two. That is unfortunate and, in many cases, undeserved. The Government believe that this is a vigorous and dynamic industry, with potential for providing great enjoyment for many people. The Bill seeks to promote this by imposing a sensible structure and proper controls within which the video industry can operate.

I have a list as long as my arm that I was going to read out of the people consulted during this process, and perhaps at a later stage I shall be able to recite it for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and others. I shall spare your Lordships at this moment. However, I ought to turn to a point which was raised by my noble friend Lord Buxton of Alsa and by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon; namely, the important issue relating to broadcasting. I quite understand the attraction of the idea that all broadcast material should be exempt. There is no question of Her Majesty's Government losing confidence in the British Broadcasting Corporation or the Independent Broadcasting Authority, but there are two difficulties which stand between the noble Lord and what he seeks to achieve. I do not doubt that he will test them in Committee.

I shall, only briefly, say, first, that the broadcasting authorities do not, unfortunately, possess a complete archive or record of what they have broadcast. The exemptions would, therefore, at best be incomplete. Secondly, there is an essential difference between material that is broadcast over the air and material that is bought over the counter. In the first instance, the responsible authority can establish at what time the material goes out. In the second, it cannot. If, as I believe, it is true that the viewing audience of broadcast material changes with the clock, this is bound to imply a need to provide some kind of guidance even for previously broadcast material if purchasers are to have some kind of idea of its suitability for viewing by young children in the house. The noble Lord has referred to the future labelling of material as to the time when it is suitable for it to go out. The noble Lord may wish to return to that point but, with the greatest respect, I hope he will not tie any difference of opinion on this between him and the Government to a lack of confidence in the corporation.

A number of matters have been raised which no doubt can be tested in Committee. However, I should like, very briefly, to explain one or two of them. May I say to my noble friend Lady Masham of Ilton that there are difficulties over the definition of social workers, for example, which will prevent them from benefiting from the exclusions in Clause 2. There is also a similar difficulty in dealing with education. However, videos which do not qualify for exemption will not for that reason be banned. They will simply require a certificate. I do not doubt that the certifying authority will deal with videos of the kind that she has described both fairly and expeditiously.

I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, that the Bill neither affects nor purports to affect the 1959 Act, so at first blush I do not think there would be merit in referring specifically to that Act in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, was also concerned with the 1959 Act and the linkage between certification and prosecution. He rightly said, in a welcome and constructive speech, that the Attorney General has made guidance on the considerations that the Director of Public Prosecutions takes into account when deciding whether or not to prosecute in an individual case available to the British Board of Film Censors. I thank the noble Lord for the notice he gave me of this question.

The information provided by the Director of Public Prosecutions was conveyed by my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney General in private correspondence with the British Board of Film Censors. There is a real point of principle here. My right honourable and learned friend is fully at liberty to make information available in this way, and he is entitled also to decline to disclose private correspondence which was not intended for publication. The British Board of Film Censors are studying the terms of the guidance. If at a later stage in the passage of the Bill it is possible for me to make available to the House any indication of its contents, or of the conclusions reached following the board's consideration of it, I shall of course be glad to do so. I recognise entirely the extent of public interest in the matter and the desirability of making a further statement, if possible.

The Government have been concerned for some time about the problem of objectionable video recordings in this country. We included an undertaking in our manifesto to introduce legislation to deal with it. We had ourselves given detailed consideration to the form that this legislation should take when my honourable friend Mr. Graham Bright came top in the contest for Private Members' Bills in another place. He told us that he intended to take advantage of his good fortune by introducing legislation to deal with the problem. The Government have been very pleased to give their full support and assistance to this Bill, which deals with a problem of great concern to many people. It is a problem in this country, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, reminded us that worse may be to come from abroad. The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, said that there are other countries which fear that we may do them harm if we do not control ourselves.

The Bill, therefore, is not disproportionate to the evil it seeks to eradicate. It provides for an extensive range of exemptions which was considerably widened by amendments tabled by my honourable friend Mr. Graham Bright and agreed at Report stage in another place. Videos which do not benefit from one or more of the exemptions will not be banned; they will simply be required to be brought forward for certification. Material towards the margins of acceptability will need close scrutiny, but video works which are clearly innocuous will no doubt be dealt with with the minimum of fuss and bother.

Under the cinematograph Acts local authorities are responsible for deciding what films may be shown in their areas and the ages of the audiences for which they are suitable. As I said, they rely for the most part on the BBFC. The film industry, therefore, is already controlled. Programmes broadcast on television by the BBC and the IBA are also already subject to controls on taste and decency. That has been the case for many years. It is only a matter of weeks since this House concluded that cable operators should also be required, by law, to observe certain minimum standards on the material they distribute, and that we should set up a Cable Authority to ensure that those standards are observed. Video is the only mass medium dealing with moving pictures which is not yet subject to some form of regulation in the public interest.

My noble friend Lord Ferrers lucidly exposed the absurdity of this. This Bill seeks to rectify that anomaly. If it represents a limitation of freedom it is, as the most reverend and noble Lord, Lord Coggan, explained with devastating simplicity, a limitation that is entirely agreeable and acceptable to reasonable men and responsible parents. The measure is not racing into legislation in unfamiliar territory. It proceeds by building on the system which is already in place for the cinema and which is widely understood and supported throughout the country.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has a Motion on the Order Paper to commit this Bill to a Select Committee. Such a committee would, as I understand it, be expected to receive evidence from a wide range of sources and report to the House on the Bill in the light of that evidence and in the fullness of time. Even if it were possible to appoint the committee at once, the whole process would undoubtedly take several months. As the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and others have suggested, it would in effect, prevent the Bill from reaching the statute book this Session. The Bill has already been passed in another place after thorough scrutiny of its provisions. In my view it would be unfortunate if this House were to act in a way which appeared calculated to block it. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will not support that proposal.

It remains only for me to renew my thanks and congratulations to my noble friend for the doughty work he is doing in the course of these proceedings.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, before the noble Lord the Minister finally sits down, may I thank him very sincerely for the way in which he has dealt with most of the major issues raised. However, there was one point which he did not deal with. It is the question of exports and the fears I ventured to express about what this might do for our reputation abroad if we did not have classification of videos, with encouragement for these nasty videos to go abroad instead of staying here.

Lord Elton

My Lords, although the noble Lord did not put a question mark at the end of that intervention I think there was one there. This is a somewhat large and complicated issue on which I do not want to spend time. This evening I recommend that your Lordships grasp what is within your grasp and let us return to the larger issues at the next stage.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, after we have had the pleasure of hearing such a comprehensive speech from my noble friend, which answered pretty well every question asked and dealt with both the minor and major issues, there is nothing further for me to answer. He kindly congratulated me for the hard work I had done, but clearly I have very little work to do so long as he is there doing it for me. All I think I need do is commend the Bill for a Second Reading now.

On Question, Bill read a second time.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I sat through the whole debate and have heard every speech. I think I sense the mood of the House and that your Lordships would like the Bill to go straight to a Committee on the Floor of the House. In those circumstances, I threaten you with joining in the fray, and I will not move my Motion, That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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