HL Deb 02 April 1984 vol 450 cc514-55

5.24 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I feel that noble Lords may well be in the mood for a recordings Bill for ministerial Statements which we could play over at our leisure on some other occasion. First, I should pay tribute to my honourable friend Mr. Graham Bright who successfully moved this Bill in another place and conducted its progress with the great help of the Home Office Minister, Mr. David Mellor. The Bill, as noble Lords will know from having read Hansard of the Commons proceedings, has had a very thorough examination there. There have been lengthy debates. The measure ended up at Report stage with support from all sides. It would be true to say that a delicate balance has been achieved in respect of the many conflicting issues.

Briefly, the objective is to establish an obligatory system of classification for video works and to outlaw the small minority that go beyond the pale. The main beneficiaries, obviously, are the children who will be protected from seeing material that might injure their young minds. I should add that parents throughout the land will be grateful when the Bill reaches the statute book. No doubt this explains the favourable wind that bore it to this House.

The need for the Bill has arisen as a result of the dramatic increase—it is no less than that—of video cassette recorders in the home in the past three years, from a few hundred thousand a few years ago to 4.5 million or possibly more today, plus a huge increase in imported video tapes. In 1979, there were fewer than 200,000 imported tapes. In 1983, there were 2.4 million imported tapes costing over half a billion pounds. This all means that today a VCR, as I shall call it for short, is to be found in something like one in four homes in the country, mostly in urban rather than rural areas; and as schoolchildren tend to pop in and out of each other's homes, particulary when they come home from school, viewing by children nowadays is probably approaching a universal habit. This development has happened so fast that no system of classification has been created for video tapes. There is only the ultimate legal longstop of the Obscene Publications Act 1959, not noted either for its speed or its efficacy.

The result is that among the large volume of several thousand tapes now in use—I am told between 6,000 and 7,000—there is a small minority of recorded programmes of indescribable offensiveness both in violence and pornography that are being seen in some homes throughout the country. I expect that many noble Lords will have seen a showing by the Metropolitan Police of excerpts from some of the worst of these video nasties and will have been able to form their own opinion of the injury that such material would do to young minds.

A classification scheme will provide that every video tape will be classified with the appropriate grade by the classifying authority employing the same grades as for films, and all tapes will be labelled accordingly. This will ensure that the customer hiring or buying a tape cannot get a video nasty by mistake, or even an 18R film which he wants to take home for his young family. While the Bill is primarily for the protection of the customer, it is also for the protection of the legitimate trade, to ensure that they know what they are handling. Although the Bill is short, it is quite complicated. Fortunately, my noble friend Lord Elton, by his good offices, has placed in the Printed Paper Office notes on clauses which I do not doubt will be helpful to noble Lords.

I turn to the Bill to give a brief explanation of the clauses. Clause 1 gives the statutory form of definition of a "video recording", which is the legal term for what the layman would call a video tape or disc for showing by means of a video cassette recorder. It also defines a "video work"—which again is the legal term—as a series of visual images which a recording is capable of producing.

Clauses 2 and 3 provide for exemptions, which we would expect to find provided for in any such system of obligatory control, covering such matters as works concerned with religion, education and sport. But in Clause 2(2) there are some carefully framed safeguards against the risks of an unscrupulous dealer slipping in an obscene programme under one of these statutory exemptions. Clause 3 exempts certain types of supply of video recordings—for example, a gift or a loan between friends would be exempted. Also exempted is a video supplied for exhibition in the cinema or for broadcasting by the BBC and IBA, which have separate statutory restraints and controls operating in these areas.

Clause 4 empowers the Secretary of State to designate an authority to be responsible for making arrangements for classifying video works and for making certain other arrangements. Obviously this is one of the most important features of the Bill, and it received lengthy debate during Committee stage in another place. There were two major points. The Home Office Minister stated that the Home Secretary was intending to designate the principal officers of the British Board of Film Censors to be the authority to make arrangements to classify video works, on the grounds that the board has had many years' experience of classifying films—which is obviously very similar to classifying video cassettes—and it has the further advantage of avoiding any system of Government censorship. Moreover, because the fees charged will be set to ensure self-financing, there will be no cost to the taxpayer.

There was a good deal of criticism of this proposal from all sides and so it is proposed to strengthen the constitution and composition of the board to cope with its much increased load. First, there is to be parliamentary approval of the Home Secretary's proposal for designating the British Board of Film Censors—or indeed anyone else that he wanted to designate—as the classifying authority. Clause 5 sets out the machinery which provides that it can be prayed against like a negative statutory order. Secondly, the board will be equipped with an appeal machinery. Thirdly, a broadly-based consultative council will be set up to work with the board. Fourthly, the board will be required to submit an annual report which will be laid before Parliament. These comprehensive new provisions for the board should, I think, go a long way to meet the various doubts which have been expressed about the capacity of the board to carry out the very important new function of classification.

The second major point which was much discussed in the other place on Clause 4 was the point of cut-off beyond which a video work would be unclassified and which it would be illegal, therefore, to supply. The argument turned on whether videos which might fall into the 18R category should be classified or not. Two whole days were spent in debating that in Committee in the other place, but the eventual decision was that the 18R category should be available under the Bill. However, there is an amendment in the Bill which will have the effect that the British Board of Film Censors will be required to have special regard to the prospect of videos being viewed "in the home" where anyone could see them, as contrasted to films which are shown in circumstances where the age of the audience can be restricted, and in the case of 18R films can be seen only by adults over 18 and in a film club or sex shop. The ultimate limitation of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 will apply to all video works as it does to all films shown in public cinemas.

For the convenience of noble Lords who have been following my speech in the amended Bill now before the House, I should explain that considerable renumbering took place on Report in the other place. Although the debate on this major issue took place on an amendment to Clause 4, it is now Clause 7 which shows that the board is to classify video works in the same categories as films.

Clause 8 enables the Secretary of State to make regulations prescribing labels for cassettes, discs and their packaging so that traders and customers can instantly recognise their contents. Clauses 9 to 14 create offences to ensure the proper working of the Bill. Clause 15 specifies that offences under Clauses 9 and 10—that is to say, supplying, offering for supply or possessing for supply an unclassified cassette or disc—attract a fine of up to £20.000. This unusually high fine for a summary offence was fixed in recognition of the big profits which are being made by supplying video nasties. A lower level of penalty is attached to offences in breach of the classification awarded—at present £1,000, shortly to be increased by an order of the Home Secretary which he will be laying before Parliament which will raise it to £2,000.

Clauses 16 to 18 contain certain standard provisions dealing with offences by bodies corporate, entry, search and seizure, and arrest by a constable. Clauses 19 and 20 provide for evidence of the classification of a video work to be given by a certificate signed by a person authorised by the Home Secretary. He intends to authorise members of the designated authority—that is, the British Board of Film Censors—and certain of their examiners. Clause 21 provides for forfeiture of video material following a conviction. Clause 22 is an interpretation clause. Clause 23 enables the Secretary of State to bring different provisions of the Bill into force at different times—a matter of practical importance in view of the huge backlog of video works waiting to be classified.

My Lords, that completes a very brief description of the Bill—as brief as it could be, starting at such a late hour with so many noble Lords to speak. I commend the Bill to your Lordships and I beg to move that it be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time—(Lord Nugent of Guildford.)

5.39 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, the House has a deep respect and regard for the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. Indeed, had the Opposition had the chance of passing to the noble Lord a drink, it would have been rather stronger than the water which was provided for him by one of his noble friends. I, too, from these Benches would like to pay a tribute to the honourable Member for Luton, South who piloted this Bill through another place and who indeed, if I remember correctly, sacrificed the position that he had as a parliamentary private secretary in order that he could be responsible for it. Possibly I shall be forgiven if I also ask the House to remember the efforts of my honourable friend Mr. Wardell, the Member for Gower, who introduced, or tried to introduce, a very similar Bill into the other place in December 1982, and who was met by a difficulty, to which I shall venture to refer your Lordships hereafter.

The noble Lord was absolutely right to point out at the very beginning of his speech the increase in the industry of video tapes that has occurred over the years, and especially the figure for imports. It was a very telling figure. The noble Lord gave your Lordships the precise figure for 1983 of 2.4 million, as given in a parliamentary reply in another place in July of last year, and the value of that at £562.7 million. When we look at those figures for 1983 we realise that we are dealing with a very much extended trade.

When saying that, it is important to point out, as I readily do and as I am sure the noble Lord would want to do, that the vast majority of the units concerned are units that are intended for entertainment, for education, and for cultural improvement, and that, when considering this Bill, we are looking most essentially at the filthy end of a quite reputable trade. I believe that that is a point that ought to be emphasised. At the very outset of my remarks may I say—and I am sure that this is true of all parties represented in your Lordships' House, and I do not have to talk about noble Lords who sit upon the honoured Cross-Benches—that there is no question of there being a party view so far as the Opposition are concerned. It may very well be that your Lordships will hear from the Benches that I have the honour to sit on some views which are contrary to mine.

Personally, I do not have the slightest hesitation in joining in a war of extermination against those who trade in true video nasties. I do not have the slightest hesitation in doing that. I do not find myself troubled by liberal concepts in this regard. To me liberal concepts mean guarding values. I do not put any value upon the trade in video nasties. I describe it in the same way as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice did when talking in terms of the duty that Parliament owed—and he did this is in a very recent lecture which he delivered in Cambridge—when he said that it is not only children who need to be protected from seeing video nasties but also violent criminals who are mentally children". I believe that that is a thought which many of us would want to bear in mind.

On the question of classification, I should have thought that most of your Lordships would think that we are conferring a public benefit on those who go to buy video tapes and who want to show them at home, by ensuring that classification takes place, so that there is a ready guide to a parent, or indeed any adult, who does not want to be insulted by seeing the sort of horrible material which I believe was exhibited on 1st November last in a Committee room in another place. I was not present on that occasion, but those who were have described to me what they saw. I do not wish to say anything else than that I can well understand the sickened reaction which everyone who went into that Committee room felt in the course of that exhibition.

In general, this is a Bill which I hope—and I am expressing my personal view—will have the commendation of your Lordships. We shall all want it to have a speedy passage. However, there are some elements of it that require our very definite consideration. Bearing in mind the number of speakers who wish to address your Lordships, I hope that their speeches too may be classified and that, in your Lordships' judgment, my speech will be classified as being comparatively brief and relatively to the point. Therefore, I shall go speedily to the six matters which I believe require your Lordships' attention at various stages in this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, just touched on the question of double jeopardy. It is the double jeopardy of finding oneself classified or non-classified, and at the same time, even if one is classified, very possibly finding oneself up against the Act that many of your Lordships have discussed before—certainly at the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, on occasions, and also of my noble friend Lord Longford—the Obscene Publications Act. If there is one thing that we have learnt about that Act it is that it has a definition with which everyone is unhappy but which no one seems able to improve—the "tending to deprave or corrupt" definition.

I understand that in 1982 there were over 500 prosecutions and only half of them ended in convictions. That may be a very good percentage (whichever way one refers to the word "good" in that connection) as against other types of prosecution, but it shows that after the Director of Public Prosecutions has carefully considered the evidence and the nature of the material, it is not very easy to get a conviction under that Act. I am sure that all your Lordships will realise that if we relied completely and solely upon that Act it would mean that these wretched video nasties would go on being sold, possibly in a great hurry and possibly at slightly reduced prices, in order to get the products out while the lengthy procedure was gone through by the director of deciding whether or not to prosecute. Of course, as we all know, trials in this connection take a great deal of time before they are held and completed. I do not think that we need be greatly troubled about the issue of double jeopardy.

However, quite naturally the argument flows on to the question of the difference of interpretation that there might be between the authorities and the courts. I was a little concerned—and I do not know whether your Lordships will share that concern—when this matter was discussed in the other place and the Minister said this at col. 563 of the Official Report of 11th November 1983: My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I have been in close touch with my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General over this problem"— he was talking about the different interpretations— during the past weeks. As a result of those discussions, I am glad to say that the Director of Public Prosecutions has made available to the BBFC"— the British Board of Film Censors— the guidelines under which the DPP works in deciding on video nasties where most difficulty is likely to arise". He then goes on to say that, in addition, the DPP will supply them with details of the prosecutions and what happens. I am very happy that the Director of Public Prosecutions should be in communication with the British Board of Film Censors, even though presumably it has not been finally decided which body will be the designated authority, although it is thought that they will be the body likely to be the designated authority. But why should that end there? Why should not those guidelines be public property? Why should not people know, in the trade and outside it, what is going to be deemed by the Director of Public Prosecutions as being an obscenity under the Act and therefore liable to prosecution?

There would then be little excuse for all the defences that are put up in regard to, "Well, we wouldn't have known", and "We didn't know", and, "This is art", and, "This is culture" or whatever it may be that is put up by way of a defence. I should like the noble Lord the Minister, to whom I gave notice of this question, to inform your Lordships of the ministerial thinking in regard to that matter.

I turn to the third point, which is one of exports. I am worried about this. The Bill does not provide for classification of our exports and of video films. The present position is—and I regret to have to say this of a great nation with great industries—that by far the majority of video nasties come from the United States. There is very little manufactured in this country at the present time. But what is going to happen when we have this Bill as an Act of Parliament? I am afraid that it is going to mean that the trade will then turn, if we have no classification of exports, into re-exports of what comes in from America. Also there may well be large stocks of them which will not then be able to be sold over here—I am talking about the video nasties—and will not even be classified in addition; and it also may be an encouragement to a not very likeable section of our own community here to start manufacture of these things for export because there is no home trade.

The answer that was given in another place when this was raised was that it is for importing countries to have their own laws in regard to these matters, and that we really have not got any responsibility. My Lords, I think we have a responsibility. I do not want to see—and I believe some of your Lordships may agree with me—this country getting a name for exporting video nasties without people knowing exactly what they are. Therefore, I hope that some attention will be given to this matter.

I then turn to the designated authority. I am delighted to know that it looks as though it is fairly definite that the British Board of Film Censors are being designated as the authority. I say that, but I wish it were in the Bill. I wish the British Board of Film Censors, if that is going to be the decision, were the designated authority in the Bill, with full power for the Minister, with the approval of Parliament, to change the designated authority if for any reason that were found necessary.

I am glad that the Leader of the House, the noble Viscount, is present to hear me say that, because when the Bill of December 1981 (I think it was) was being introduced, so he hoped, by my honourable friend in another place—and it was a rather similar Bill—the noble Viscount wrote to him—and this is quoted at column 539 of the proceedings of another place of 11th November 1983: My major criticism"— said the noble Viscount, holding the distinguished office which he then held with such distinction— (i.e. the Bill's failure to deal with the question of which body should be given the task of classifying cassettes) however remains and is not, I am afraid, capable of resolution in the same way. In consequence, although your Bill is certainly helpful in pointing a possible framework for the future, I remain of the view that much work still needs to be done before legislation would be feasible and cannot, therefore, offer you any prospects of Government support". I end the quotation from the noble Viscount's letter.

That meant that unless you have a definite designated authority and you know which way you are moving, it is too early to introduce legislation of this kind. If the Government have made up their mind now as to who the designated authority should be, if that is still the view of the Government as expressed by the noble Viscount before, should not the British Board of Film Censors be the designated authority in this Bill with, as I say, the Secretary of State's full power to nominate an alternative, maybe an additional, designated authority for the approval of Parliament?

I was delighted, as I believe most of your Lordships will be, to know that we have kept absolutely clear from a governmental authority deciding on censorship, and that it is to be a nominated authority of this kind even though it is to be a statutory authority. I am sure that possibly at Committee stage—and I am not going to burden your Lordships with any long sentences about this now—or another stage of this Bill we may want to exert a little more pressure to see that we know precisely what types of persons are going to be elected or appointed to the British Board of Film Censors so that we know, as we have been assured is the case, that there is a wide spectrum of tolerant, intelligent opinion that is going to deal with work that it will be required to do under this Bill.

My fifth point is that although there is provision in the Bill for an appeal against a failure to classify, or indeed against a classification—and in the course of proceedings in another place mention was made of this being an independent body—the Bill does not contain any information at all as to the nature of that appellate tribunal. We owe it to ourselves as legislators to see that that is put right.

My last point I make quickly for others to develop. I believe that many of your Lordships will have received, as I have, correspondence from the various broadcasting authorities saying that they feel it is quite wrong, having, as they do, their duties to observe standards of good taste and decency, that video tapes of their programmes should be subjected to classification under this Bill. It appears to me at the moment that they may well have a reasonable case, being bound by those standards even if we look at things like cable broadcasting, to which we gave some attention only a little while ago. But I leave others to develop that theme. I merely mention it in the course of a Second Reading speech.

As your Lordships will have gathered, and I repeat it is my personal view from this Front Bench but I believe I have the support of many of my colleagues, I think that this is a worthwhile Bill. I congratulate those who have brought it to your Lordships' attention.

5.58 p.m.

Lord McGregor of Durris

My Lords, there is no party view of this measure on these Benches beyond the unanimity with which we welcome the endeavours of the honourable Member for Luton, South, and the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, in this House for tackling what is on any showing an urgent and difficult problem. I must at the outset declare a connection, though I do not think that it amounts to an interest, in that about a year ago I was asked if I would consider becoming chairman of a video standards council modelled on the Advertising Standards Authority. I agreed in principle subject to the approval of the council of the Advertising Standards Authority. However, although that body agreed, nothing came of the invitation because the proposed council was never established.

It is common ground that videos depicting violence and sadism are evil, because those who perform in them, or produce, or publish, or distribute, or sell them become, by that participation, less than human. I can think of no other form of words in which to express the repugnance we all have for these productions and reiteration would certainly not strengthen the feeling of horror.

The Williams Committee observed of films for the large screen that: It is the extremity of violence which concerns us: we found it extremely disturbing that highly explicit depictions of mutilation savagery, menace and humiliation should be presented for the entertainment of an audience in a way that appeared to emphasise the pleasures of sadism. Indeed, some of the film sequences we saw seemed to have no purpose or justification other than to reinforce or sell the idea that it can be highly pleasurable to inflict injury, pain or humiliation (often in a sexual context) on others". On those grounds the committee went on to recommend adherence to the habit of pre-censorship and it rejected all suggestions for changing the procedure under which films are censored in this country, as indeed they are censored in almost every other country in the world.

The British Videogram Association, the trade association representing the industry, took the same view in 1980 when assessing the astonishingly fast expansion of the industry, to which others have drawn attention. It said that it was concerned to protect members of the public from inadvertently buying or renting videograms which might be grossly offensive to some adults or seriously disturbing to children.

Accordingly in 1981 the British Videogram Association set up, in collaboration with the British Board of Film Censors, a working party with the following terms of reference: to consider the means by which pre-recorded video might become subject to the same system of certification which has operated in Britain for theatrical films". The report from which I am reading continues: Experts in the fields of broadcasting, psychology and the law were invited to serve on the working party and to offer guidance on the degree of protection needed for children as well as the kinds of advice which should be given to parents both as customers and as owners of video recorders". The working party was constituted of such people with expert knowledge in the relevant fields as Mr. James Ferman, the secretary to the British Board of Film Censors; Lady Plowden, then lately chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority; Dr. Faith Spicer, chairman of the London Juvenile Court and an authority on child development; Dr. Anthony Storr and several others. This working party reported in January 1983 and recommended, first, the drawing up of a classification for videos; secondly, the establishment by the industry of a self-regulatory body; a video standards council with strong independent representation; and, lastly, a video code of practice.

I think that the industry had been perceptive, sensible, had anticipated the difficulties of its rapidly expanding trade and had attempted to meet them: in general it acted with an urgent sense of responsibility. I understand that the scheme drawn up had at that time the blessing of the Home Office and it was expected to put it into operation last summer. At that point, after the general election, the Prime Minister announced in the House of Commons that self-regulation would not be an effective method of control and that a statute was necessary. We then had the Bright Bill with Government assistance.

The honourable Member for Luton, South, explained his position by saying that a voluntary scheme of control would not work because it lacked legal and criminal sanctions. It could not therefore, he said, deal with the disreputable fringe of trade and it would not reassure the public.

The situation, then, is that everyone agrees that pre-censorship and classification of videos is necessary to suppress the circulation of those depicting violence and sadism. But there are differences of opinion about the best technique for achieving this aim. I do not think that statutory intervention will prove as effective a method as self-regulation would have proved. On the side of self-regulation a chief argument is that it carries the support and backing of the industry. There are many others but I have no time to mention them.

It is a fiction that adherence to rules is more certain if they are backed by the threat of criminal or legal sanction. This is by no means the case. Indeed, the whole history of the development of our system of public administration demonstrates that administrators, be they government inspectorates or self- regulatory bodies, always seek to persuade rather than to prosecute and take the view that effective control in many areas cannot be achieved through the legal process nearly as effectively as by the pressure of an industry willing to control itself.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, before the noble Lord finishes with that point, in which we are all interested, would he really suggest to this House that the sort of people who import and distribute the sort of material we are talking about would be members of a respectable industrial association?

Lord McGregor of Durris

Just so, my Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has raised a rather obvious point to which I intended to address myself later. If he will be so kind as to be patient with me, I shall come to it.

The Bill deals with materials purveyed for the satisfaction of sadists and pornophiles. Anyone who looks at the history of this market over the last 200 years will recognise that systems of control are very difficult to establish and that the war of extermination, to which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred, will be a very difficult war to win. If it is to be won, it is essential that the whole of the reputable industry is behind the attempt, and that the attempt is being made with a favourable public opinion.

I was distressed by the history which I have described because the rejection by the Government of the industry's proposals has led in the industry to resentment, to a good deal of bitterness and to feelings which fall far short of effective co-operation. Secondly, there is a feeling in the industry, which is probably unfair but nevertheless exists, that it is being harrassed by prosecutions in a period during which it has attempted to the best of its ability to co-operate in the framing of the Bill. I certainly think that this is a difficulty that the House should recognise and consider.

The designated authority in the form of the British Board of Film Censors—and there can be no other authority at the moment that could conceivably do the necessary job of classification—which controls the industry's own scheme also would have undertaken the classification on contract. That designated authority is very difficult to see in terms other than those of a necessary censorship. One difficulty would have been removed if the industry, when the Government decided to legislate, had continued with its plan to set up an independent authority in the field. In a manner which I think can only be regarded as misguided and petulant, it decided not to. The result is that there is no independent agency which can represent the public interest and attempt to reach a compromise between the public and the private interests.

The importance of this lies in the question which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, invited me to answer. What has to be done in this field if control is to be effective is to draw the sharpest of distinctions between the reputable trade, which will observe the system of classification and which, under the industry's scheme, would have observed the code of practice—because delinquents who were in breach of that code of practice under the scheme would have been refused supplies by the publishers of videos and hence put out of business—and the disreputable fringe. What we have to seek to establish now, particularly given the anxieties about current prosecution policy, is a distinction between the reputable trade and this disreputable fringe.

We need a reputable trade governed by, and under the control of, the general framework set up in the Act. I am arguing that it would be very much easier to strengthen the wording of the Act if such an indepen-dent body as was earlier envisaged were to be set up.That will free the police from having to attend to reputable retailers and will leave the policing to the authority, thus enabling the police to concentrate their major efforts on the delinquent fringe, where all the attention is necessary.

My Lords, I am not opposing the Bill. In present circumstances it is necessary. It has come to us from the other place and and I think that it would ill become this House to attempt in any fundamental way to alter legislation relating to public morality passed by that other place. There are improvements that can be made at Committee stage but the major improvement which will enable the legisaltion to work smoothly is one which cannot be made by Parliament but can be made by the industry.

6.17 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, as this is the first time that I have had the honour of addressing your Lordships, I am naturally somewhat concerned that I may not live up to the high standards that your Lordships rightly expect. As I mulled over how I should open my address today, I recalled that Charles James Fox, when asked how it was that he had improved from being the worst speaker in the House to becoming the best, replied that it was by speaking on every possible subject and on every possible occasion. On the other hand, Mr Asquith, when he was asked how he became an accomplished speaker in another place, replied, "By speaking only on subjects about which I am knowledgeable and feel comfortable with". By this time, I was in a thorough muddle and was feeling that I should have asked the Whips' Office not only for notes for guidance for maiden speakers but also for a large pair of L-plates.

I was originally due to fly to Hong Kong last Friday. But when I learned that your Lordships would be debating this Bill today, I took steps to delay my departure until tomorrow and so take part, because I believe this is an important matter which concerns, in particular, the young people of this country. However, time is short and I must press on as I understand that undue length of speeches is not a virtue always appreciated in your Lordships' House.

My Lords, the term "video nasty" seems to me to mislead, in that it conjures up a faintly mischievous, even humourful, picture in one's mind's eye. Yet this is very far from the truth. It is in fact a neat and handy title which effectively conceals the sickening nature of the product. What then are the shortcomings of this Bill? Let me say at this stage that I welcomed the remarks of my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford at the beginning of this debate when he outlined the improvements which had been made to the Bill. What are the shortcomings? First, inadequate controls. The Bill provides a category system to regulate the supply of video material but it fails to provide any teeth after the initial point of supply. Indeed, after sale or hire any material may be viewed by or exhibited to persons of any age with impunity. The claim that the Bill provides effective protection for children from corrupting video material is regrettably not true. Should not the Bill control the exhibition of this extreme material as well as its supply? By banning nothing but merely restricting the availability of some material at the point of supply, the Bill provides no effective protection for young persons.

Secondly, it is intended, as the Minister indicated on Second Reading in another place, to designate the British Board of Film Censors—a private, trade-financed, non-statutory body—as the authority to categorise video films. This body has presided over the serious decline in film standards over the last 15 years and many people would disagree with a number of its judgments: for example, the X category certificate awarded to the horrific film, "Caligula". There is no specific guidance in the Bill on what is totally unacceptable, although Clause 4(1)(a) says that special regard should be paid to the likelihood of this material being viewed in the home.

Guidelines should be issued. Surely there should be a definition of what could put a video outside any category. This, I believe, is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, was making earlier. Indeed, material which it would be an offence to make available to anyone over the counter should be defined. The Government's promise to provide an advisory council to help the British Board of Film Censors is a small move in the right direction, but no more.

Three questions spring to mind. Will members of the public be able to appeal to the advisory council against a decision of the British Board of Film Censors? Will the council be able to set and supervise the criteria, such as they are, employed by the board? Lastly, will it be able to ensure that viewers employed by the British Board of Film Censors are changed regularly—say biannually or even annually—to avoid desensitisation? Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt and familiarity with this extreme material is bound to have a debilitating effect on the viewers who have the unsavoury task of categorising this material.

In conclusion, in general terms I should like to welcome this Bill as, in spite of its shortcomings, I believe that it will strengthen the hand of responsible parents and responsible traders, though, regrettably, many parents and traders do not come in that category. I should like to end by urging the sponsors of this Bill, together with the Home Office, to consider whether the scope of the Bill could not be broadened to cover exhibition as well as supply so as to give some meaningful protection to our children from this degrading material.

6.23 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, it gives me the greatest pleasure and honour to be the first speaker after that memorable maiden speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, who is the son of a distinguished and gallant admiral and who himself has served 21 years in the Royal Navy. It gives me, as a simple Royal Naval Reserve chaplain, the greatest joy to say, "Well done, sir—first rate!" We hope that he will not altogether follow Mr. Asquith, because we hope to hear him more often since obviously he knows a lot about many things, as any sensible sailor with 21 years' service would. We hope very much that his wit, common sense, shrewd ideas and Christian convictions will be always at our disposal. We look forward to hearing him often, and we thank him for his "maiden over". There was not a chance given anywhere round the wicket.

I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, explained that he was speaking personally and not making a speech in terms of the considered view of the distinguished and historic party opposite these Benches, because it seemed to me that (to keep the image going) he was on a very sticky wicket when he tried to say that this was a lunatic fringe, that the industry was able to control itself and that a self-regulatory method was the best way of dealing with this situation. Thirty per cent. of British households now have a video set, and this morning the Daily Telegraph, which I happened to see—it is not the paper which I read every day, but I saw it this morning—said that with some six million machines in the country we seem to lead the world in video mania. This is the fastest growing industry, and we even hear that the milkman will soon be delivering blank tapes with our daily "pinta"—and those of us who are desperately wondering what will happen next Friday on "Death of a Nightingale" know the possible dangers of the poisoned "pinta", and are waiting eagerly to know about that.

This is much too serious a matter to leave as a self-regulatory matter, because in effect the events prove themselves by the fact that the video industry has been in action now for a number of years and in the last four years it has grown very fast. I take one illustration from the Parliamentary Group Video Inquiry, which very naturally, by those who disagree with it, has been pretty strongly criticised. I hope that your Lordships have a copy of their report, because it particularly concerns video violence and children—and it is only Part 2. It has not got so far as the work being done by four very distinguished sociologists and psychiatrists on the possible impact on children; it is concerned with the facts.

To pick up the point that has been made in this immediate report of the parliamentary group, it is notable that in the January 1984 list of the top 50 video titles compiled for video business—that is, by the industry itself, in its present self-regulatory phase—as being the titles most popular in demand throughout the country, two titles appeared which may themselves be Rl 8 material. They are: "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas", and "Electric Blue 13". They stand at 11 and 15 in the current charts, and, without going on about this further, both are currently being looked at by the police in terms of possible attention and prosecution. I use that one illustration only to say that I believe the self-regulatory principle will not hold water and that the Bill that we have—although I believe it will need strengthening and certainly needs looking at very closely—will do a lot of good things. All of us are grateful to Mr. Bright for the work that he has done on this.

Your Lordships will remember that in this House four years ago many of us were simply not aware of the moral dangers represented by the sex shops situation; but the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and others, as well as the Government themselves, opened up the facts to us and led us to at least the curbing of the excesses of the sex shop malevolent industry. I therefore want to ask two questions. This is of course a Second Reading debate, and we must obviously look at the detail carefully; but how is it that in Clause 12 at the moment we would apparently strengthen the sex shop industry and boost their miserable trade towards the degradation of beautiful and loving marriages by sweeping under their tawdry carpets so-called R18 films? The British Board of Film Censors produced this category only in 1982, issuing it only in 1983. To quote again from our parliamentary group, these films, usually depict a type of pornography displaying explicit scenes of deviant sexual behaviour, including group sex and sadomasochism Our own Board of Social Responsibility stated: The over-riding consideration in the classification system will be that of suitability for home viewing". But how are we to make sure that home viewing does not become the outlet, following the sale through sex shops?

I believe that the opposition to this Bill is strong, though fairly clandestine at the moment, and we have a moral duty to make sure that we draw out to the conscience of the public the possible dangers which would accrue to the nation if we did not bring in a Bill of this sort, with particular reference to the care and protection of children. Because there are so many other speakers I shall make only this one point.

Our report was produced in November from the immediate raw material of the first cut, when we were hoping to get some material for Second Reading in the other place, and the careful work done by our researchers, which stands up to the most close scrutiny, has produced this figure again. Our survey revealed that 45 per cent. of all children aged 7 to 16 in England and Wales have seen one or more obscene video nasties. What now do we say about a responsible industry seeking to do self-regulatory work when that is the scope of the problem? More boys than girls watch video nasties, our report tells us, and more than half the nation's boys of 7 to 16 have seen one or more. It is no pleasure to me to inform your Lordships that, when you study the careful demographic pictures in this report, you find that, apart from Wales, East Anglia—and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, will be pleased with this, too—is the area least affected by video nasties. Nonetheless, that is what our research shows.

Therefore, I hope that with that brief reference to Clause 12, which we should look at, we should give clear Second Reading support to this Bill. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, will not be able to win our allegiance to the idea of a Select Committee, thus putting back for ages the opportunity of getting on with this work. There is a real head of steam in our nation today for this Bill. Having ploughed through all nine of the documents in another place concerning their Select Committee, and having been pleased with the way in which they have got together a lot of their material and have done a lot of the balancing work—though there are areas which we might strengthen in this Bill—I hope that by this Second Reading, to use a phrase which the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, will recognise, we will give it a fair wind straight away.

6.34 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I, too, join in the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, who has given a very thoughtful maiden speech on this difficult matter. I think the noble Lord will find that if he wishes to prohibit showing, he will either have to prohibit showing in the home or prevent things from getting into the home at all. This will provide a most difficult question of civic freedom for parents to decide in certain circumstances what they take into the home. However they may be supplied, and under whatever restrictions they may be supplied, it is difficult to forbid parents taking things into the home. Unless we have legislation to prevent people from getting video recordings to show in the home, which can be seen by adults under club conditions, what the noble Lord is seeking will not be attainable. This was a matter of considerable controversy in the Standing Committee, and I shall refer to that again a little later.

I have on the Order Paper a notice that I propose, on this Bill receiving a Second Reading, to move that it be referred to a Select Committee. I shall not make any separate speech on that Motion, though I shall move it at the end of the day, so I shall relieve your Lordships of a second speech from me. But I want to deal with some aspects of the Bill and give my reasons why those matters should be referred to a Select Committee for further examination.

First, I ought to refer to the status of this Bill. It is a Private Member's Bill. It has been sponsored in your Lordships' House by a noble Lord in his capacity as a Back-Bencher. This Bill therefore comes to your Lordships' House by the luck of the draw. This is the result of the ballot for Private Member's Bills in another place. It is not part of the design or purpose, so far as I understand it, of the Government themselves, and the Government have not actually declared any responsibility for this Bill. They have given a good deal of support to it in the Standing Committee in another place, but the Government have not defined their attitude on the principle of the Bill.

This is a censorship Bill and the word "censorship" should appear in the Title, because that is what it is. Moreover, this is the first Bill of its kind which, if it is passed by this House, will have matched the Theatres Act 1843 by instituting state censorship of entertain-ment and communication. Never, since 1843, have we had a Bill for pre-censorship of means of communication. This is an important Bill on that account. It comes very close to being a constitutional Bill. If we had a written Constitution and if we had a Bill of Rights, I am quite sure that freedom from pre-censorship of communication would be part of it.

The obscenity laws are there all the time. Although they have been referred to as being inadequate and slow moving they are there, and if they are not adequate the obscenity laws can be improved and strengthened, but Parliament seems very loath to make the effort. So it now substitutes difficulties of definition of "obscenity" for a reference of these matters wholly to a censorship authority of whose outlook, whose activities, whose standards and whose approach to the matter we know little or nothing today. In those circumstances, we ought to ask the Government before the end of the day to tell us a little more clearly where they stand on this Bill. Any Bill containing censorship for the first time for over 100 years ought to have Government support behind it, with the Government taking responsibility for it and being accountable for it.

The next point that I want to raise concerns voluntary controls. I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord McGregor of Durris on this matter, and I dissent completely from the viewpoint of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, who said a moment ago that voluntary means would not be sufficient. We are all the time praising the British Board of Film Censors. That is a non-statutory body. It has never been a statutory body and it works a voluntary scheme on behalf of the industry. It is financed by the industry. We like it so much, and the Government have so much confidence in it, that we are told that the Government will designate the British Board of Film Censors as the designated authority for the purposes of this Bill, although this will change the nature of the BBFC. It will become a hybrid body, presumably—part of the voluntary system of the film industry and part of the machinery of the statutory control of video recordings. It will have a dual role and. presumably, a dual nature: half of it voluntary, half of it part of the statutory system. Why cannot something similar be fully explored and tested in this particular field?

I was astonished that last year both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary dismissed the idea of a voluntary scheme as being inadequate. They seemed to go straight for the idea of compulsory control. The industry has not been given a chance properly to do this job for itself, with the encouragement of the Government. It knew from the time of the general election that state intervention was uppermost in the mind of the Government. This is an authoritarian approach; not the approach that we customarily adopt when we are dealing with matters of this kind. We have a genius for voluntary effort, self-discipline and co-operation. It is to be found in many areas. We know a great deal about codes of conduct and guidelines. Codes of conduct have been used in trade union legislation. They are employed in numerous areas where it is difficult to define precisely a standard of behaviour or compliance with statute law. Therefore we rely on voluntary self-discipline to bring about what we are seeking to achieve. Voluntary controls should be explored by a Select Committee before we race on and accept compulsory controls. State intervention in communications has dangerous potentialities, especially when there is no definition in the statute law of what the censorship body is supposed to be doing. There are many dangers which we ought to anticipate and control by voluntary effort.

Another point in this connection is that when Mr. Wardell, who has been referred to by my noble friend Lord Mishcon, introduced his Bill at the end of 1982, the then Home Secretary, now the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, wrote to him in February 1983 to persuade him to withdraw the Bill in order that the necessarily wide-ranging consultations could be carried on. The noble Viscount, as Home Secretary, said at page 24 of Background Paper 130: It follows that I believe that before any attempt is made to impose legislative controls in this area, wide-ranging consultations will be necessary with the industry, the local authorities, the BBFC and the police. This applies not only to the specific problem of the status of the BBFC but to the issue in general, including the inevitable problems of enforcement". What has happened to those wide-ranging consultations? How far have they gone? How deeply did anyone, including the sponsor of the Bill in another place and the Government who helped him, go into these matters with the various bodies concerned? We are being bounced into statutory action by an emotive reaction to a situation. I beg your Lordships to pause and to consider all the implications of fairness to the industry and the liberty of the subject.

That leads me to the evidence upon which this Bill has rested right from the beginning. The right reverend Prelate referred to the report of the parliamentary video inquiry group. This report, to which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, did not refer, although he is prominently connected with it, has come under the most severe criticism—for instance, in the Daily Telegraph on 8th March, in the New Statesman at the beginning of March, in articles in the Guardian and, more recently, in an article in The Times which was headed "'Nasties' evidence in doubt". I beg your Lordships to read this article. I have here a quite unsolicited letter which was sent today to a noble friend of mine from a senior lecturer in communications studies at Bristol Polytechnic supporting the criticism which was published in the New Statesman about the whole basis of this report.

The astonishing feature of the investigation into this matter, reported in The Times on 30th March, is that Dr. Clifford Hill of Oxford Polytechnic, who undertook the research work on behalf of the parliamentary group, apparently included in his questionnaire the names of films which did not exist. The article in The Times continued: Two psychologists from Aston University… reported yesterday that 68 per cent. of 11-year-olds claim to have seen films which do not exist. The psychologists said: 'Our opinion is that Dr. Hill's questionnaire is far too confusing for even 11-year-olds in junior schools'. The two—Dr. Guy Cumberbatch and Mr. Paul Bates, said: 'Frankly, we found it embarrassing to waste the time of children and teachers on it'.". Mr. Martin Barker, writing from Bristol Polytechnic, offers criticisms of this report in the most devastating terms. I feel that it is profoundly unreliable evidence in support of the Bill, yet this report, and its conclusions, was being publicised under banner headlines for days and weeks during the work of the Standing Committee in another place.

When we are told, as we were in banner headlines at the time, that, based on the first report in November last of this group, four out of 10 schoolchildren have seen horror nasties, sadistic sex and other horrible things in the home, one's own common-sense, quite apart from any statistical doubts that might be applied, should make one very sceptical indeed. Do your Lordships really believe that the implied vote of censure on the parents of Britain that this report contains is justified? Do your Lordships really believe that 45 per cent. of the schoolchildren of Britain have seen horror films of the kind that are to be banned or seriously curtailed by the Bill? I, frankly, do not. I am surprised that people who wish to uphold the sanctity of the family, and who regard it as the centre of our social life, accept this censure upon their judgment, behaviour and responsibility to their children. Indeed, the outcome of the critical investigation now being made into this report suggests that the children were asked whether they had seen films that do not exist.

I believe that the Select Committee should examine the foundations of this evidence and see whether we can get nearer to the truth of the matter than we have been given it so far. Is this Bill going to be passed on the assumption that the report we have just had quoted is true? Is that the basis upon which this legislation for censorship is to be made? I suggest that we want to probe into this very deeply indeed. We want to learn much more of the truth than we know now. This emotional stuff. In the words of some critics it is even described as bogus. In those circumstances, I think that a Select Committee is entitled, and we are entitled to have on our behalf, an investigation into the evidence upon which we are asked to support this Bill.

If the evil is much smaller than has been alleged, then a voluntary' effort to deal with it might be more successful and more easily mounted. If we do not know the size and the extent of the evil, how can we really deal with it? Are we to put all the video recordings through the censorship machine for a small minority of the films? It would be mounting an enormous apparatus of censorship in order to deal with a problem which could be got under control by voluntary means. As my noble friend Lord McGregor said, one can squeeze people out from the trade altogether if there is a voluntary system which is tightly held by the reputable side of the industry and fully supported by members of the public. Without classification the public would not buy, and one can provide for what happens to films that have no classification. But under the Bill everything will have to be churned through this machine.

This brings me to one or two questions of administration. What is the British Board of Film Censors which is now to be given this statutory responsibility? What are its guidelines? We hear that they are likely to be given to it by the Direcor of Public Prosecutions. I certainly agree with my noble friend Lord Mishcon that we ought to be told what they are. I think that the Select Committee should have the guidelines in draft, to see whether it approves of them because they will virtually be part of statute law. They are part of a definition. In those circumstances, we are entitled to that information. We want to know on what basis a censorship authority is to distinguish between the cinema, which it deals with on the one hand, and video recordings for the home, which it deals with on the other. Are these censors to be civil servants? If so, will they be allowed to join a trade union? Advertisements are now being placed for censors for cinema and video. What qualifications are they to have? What sort of people are they to be? Who are these people who are to be placed in supreme authority over the viewing of films of this or any kind in the home?

This is where we come up against the real problems of a Bill of this nature. I sincerely hope that we are not going to be rushed forward on this Bill without time to take evidence. No evidence whatever has been given. No Standing Committee receives evidence. The Committee stage of your Lordships' House will not take evidence. Where is the evidence? Cannot we see people and find out how they view the whole problem of voluntary versus statutory controls? I am sure that out of that would come a better Bill than we have at the present time.

I am concerned with the principles of this matter because they are very important and I do not believe in treading over the liberties of a century merely to meet an emergency and an emotive situation, without carefully considering where we are going. We need time to inquire, to seek and receive evidence, to consider and to discuss rather than to debate. I hope that in those circumstances the House will think that it is a good thing to take this Bill to a Select Committee and let that Select Committee deal with it in greater detail.

Finally, I urge upon your Lordships that no moral issue of great public importance should in these days be dealt with by Parliament without the benefit of consideration, careful preparation and finding what is the best solution. Your Lordships have referred at different times to animal experiments, equal pay, sex discrimination, and marriage and divorce. We have gone to outside bodies. Homosexual offences went to a separate committee. But there has been no inquiry anywhere into this particular problem for the benefit of the information of the public. I sincerely hope that we are going to pause in the course of considering this Bill and not let the transient problems of the moment overcome our sense of responsibility for the preservation of our liberties and for getting in its proper place—which is in the home—the responsibility that parents should use towards their children.

Lord Elton

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, he asked one question to which I should reply before we go further. There are, of course, many others. He asked whether the Government supported this Bill. He will be in no doubt that we do when I have finished my speech.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, again before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask whether he has read our parliamentary report and whether he particularly noted the finding that 90 per cent. of parents whom we approached, and who were in touch with this very wide-ranging report, agreed both that society has a duty to protect children from uncensored video films and that parents should have the final responsibility on what their children should or should not watch? Therefore, if the noble Lord would like to speak to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, or even myself and others concerned, we would love to take him deeply into it all and help him to understand all the work done on this report.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, equally before the noble Lord sits down, can he tell us when he last saw these video nasty films? I think the House would be interested to know.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I have been sat down for quite a minute or two. The reply to the right reverend Prelate is that I have not read the whole report. I was not in a position to pass judgment on it myself. I have waited to see what others better qualified than I would make of the report when they examined it carefully. I read in the Daily Telegraph what Mr. William Deedes said. I have read in other sections of the press the criticisms of this report. I was reporting to the House the criticisms made by others and not my own. All I can say about it myself is that I did not believe, and that it absolutely absurd to believe, that four children out of 10 have seen these horrible films in the home. I could not believe it because I do not believe that the parents of Britain are so irresponsible, so degraded and so unfit to have their children as to preside over this kind of pollution of the home. That was my approach.

As regards the other question, on when I last saw a video nasty, I have no video, I have never rented one, and I have never bought one. I have never seen one, but that does not disqualify me from dealing with the principles of liberty, censorship and other aspects of a matter of this kind.

6.59 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, if all the other noble Lords who wished to stand up before the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, sat down have now sat down, it might be appropriate for me to stand up. I am sure that we are grateful to my noble friend Lord Nugent for introducing this Bill, not only because of what the Bill is but also because it gave my noble friend Lord Ashbourne the opportunity to make his maiden speech. It came as a great pleasure, as I know the House will agree, because it was short, clear and knowledgeable. I welcome the effort in this Bill to bring a modicum of order into an area where order is required. I think it is right to remember the words of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, who rightly said that this was the filthy end of a most reputable trade.

It is very difficult to legislate in areas which involve restricting what people may see or read. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, said that this is censorship. Of course he is quite right—I would add, if I may, about time, too! When films were first started it was recognised that some parameters had to be established as to what could be shown to the public for the public good, and the British Board of Film Censors was set up. It was a censor; make no mistake of it. Its title said so. Therefore the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, that there should not be censorship, or the fact that censorship is questionable, if I may say so with respect, really does not hold much water, because censorship is available in the cinema. What is different is that the British Board of Film Censors is a censorship body which is set up by the industry and on the industry. But now that we have had this video revolution people can have their own cinemas in their own homes, and yet there are no restrictions as to what may be sold or what may be shown in the home other than the obscenity laws.

If there is merit—and I think that there is—in controlling somehow what is put on for public display, there is equal merit in exercising control—not necessarily the same control—of what is put on for home display. The merit is simply this. There are really only three things which alter people's minds and opinions. One is what they read, the second is what they hear and the third is what they see. The whole purpose of Parliament is to enable people by speaking to alter the opinions and the views of others. The whole purpose of public relations is to persuade people to the view or to the product which is being put across. The whole purpose of education is that, by getting young people to see and read the right things, you can improve and mould their minds for the better to the advantage both of themselves and of society as a whole.

If that is so, the converse must equally be true. If you expose the minds of people (both children and grown-ups) to evil or adverse influences, you run the risk of damaging their minds and personalities to the disadvantage both of themselves and of society as a whole. Society, and therefore Parliament, have a right, and I believe a duty, while respecting personal choice and liberty, to see that individuals and others are not damaged; and more especially is this so when the reason for the damage may be profit.

It is astonishing that, while there is classification of films in a cinema so that you can get some idea of what you are in for, there is at present no such classification or indication for a video. In some ways of course the problem is even more insidious in the home. A child cannot see a film suitable only for 18 year-olds and over in a cinema. He can of course at home because he watches his parents' video when they are out, however unsuitable the film may be. Worse than that, a child can watch a most unsuitable video when he goes to a friend's house, when the friend puts on his parents' video nasty without the child's parents knowing to what it is their child is being exposed.

Even this Bill does not have the whole answer. It is remarkable that a film which is highly charged with explicit sex or violence is given an 18R rating, which restricts its showing to those over 18, and then only in a cinema club, yet a video which is given an 18R rating (which means that it can be sold only in a sex shop), once it is purchased by an older person can then be seen by children who are the very people the rating was designed to exclude. They can see it in the home and without any offence being created.

Videos are even more subversive in some respects than a film. You can watch them alone and get emotionally involved with what is going on in the film in a way which you would not necessarily do when others were present. Some say that these video nasties can affect children and more simple-minded people. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice said that they had an effect on children and on the more simple-minded people. I am sure that they can have, but I would not wish to be so arrogant as to say that they could not affect others, too, however grown-up or intelligent they may be. However intelligent or aware one may be of the dangers, no one can guarantee to be unaffected by or sterile to the effects of these films.

I hope that this new censorship body for videos will be tough—tougher and more rigorous than has been the British Board of Film Censors. I agreed with my noble friend Lord Ashbourne when he said that the British Board of Film Censors has presided over a decline in standards. He is right. Some of what is shown in cinemas now simply would not have been allowed; it would not have passed the censor 20 or 30 years ago. Some say that this is because standards have changed and what was unacceptable 20 to 30 years ago is acceptable now, and that we must be flexible and not rigid in our attitudes. But what has changed the standard? Is it not, at least to some extent, what has been made available to people? Is it not that the constancy, type and universality of what is made available are now so much more extreme and violent than what used to be made available; and that what was unacceptable 20 to 30 years ago seems in contrast mild now and therefore acceptable?

Producers, purveyors and displayers of films, videos and television have a marked ability to influence people for better and for worse, and they cannot hide behind the excuse that they are just providing what the public wants. Frequently they lead the public in what it wants. Some say that standards have changed; we must move with the times, and that is that. Is it? Do these standards not affect others? While it may be fine for you to do what you wish with your life, in a civilised society that can be so only if it is not to be at the expense of others.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, referred to this Bill as being an emotional reaction and a reflection on parents. I wonder whether we could address our minds to this thought. Thirty years ago rape was almost unheard of. Of course it happened occasionally but few people knew of it. Now it is almost commonplace. You read reports of it almost every day in the newspapers. One man on being fined for the offence said that it was worth it. The devastating effect that it has on the victim, not just at the time but for years afterwards, in the permanent, never-to-be-forgotten emotional derangement that follows such an experience, can never be fully realised because it is not quantifiable. Thirty years ago I knew of no one who had been raped. I can now recount three friends whose daughters have undergone this experience. I think that sometimes we accept things just too readily. I do not believe that this is the time—or, I suppose, the Bill—to debate the inadequacy of the penalties. In my view they are simply inadequate and not nearly harsh enough.

In a similar way gang rape (or, as it is colloquially and, even worse, jocularly called, gang bang) was unthinkable and most people did not even know that it existed; yet once it started appearing in films and videos, and people saw it and they read about it, the idea was put into the minds of others who without such contact might never have done the same thing. The result is, as we so often read in the newspapers, that it is not uncommon for some girls and women to be subjected to this terrible ordeal. In my book it is not a defence for film or video makers to say, "We show it because it happens". Far too often it happens because we show it.

Parliament has a right and a duty to protect—not to determine, which is a very different thing, but to protect—the lives and the moral life of its people. It is no use standing by and saying. "It is the day and age in which we live". To a large extent we create the conditions in which we live. In my view it is wrong that hideous films of sex and violence should be made for profit if, by their showing, they sully the minds and lives of those who see them, which in turn affects the way in which those people behave towards other people.

This Bill is a modest one. I welcome it because it seeks—whether or not it will achieve its object remains to be seen—to restrict the showing of nasty and explicit video recordings, particularly to young people. The importance of this, as I said earlier, is that the minds and the opinions of people are only affected by what they read, by what they see and by what they hear, and the last two of these appear in videos.

7.12 p.m.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I am delighted to be following the noble Earl, and should like to thank him for his calm and reasoned speech. I will, if I may, say one thing first, and that is that last November, in another place, I saw this compilation of video nasties produced by the police. I know the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, was there, too; and I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, for asking Lord Houghton of Sowerby that very important question as to whether he had ever seen a video nasty. Those of us who saw these things were sickened. Those of us who saw them may be passionately for this Bill.

Lord Houghton made several interesting comments. I thought one of the most important ones was that he said he did not believe that 45 per cent. of the parents of this country allowed their children to watch video nasties. It must be obvious that the parents did not allow it because the parents did not know. The trouble with the video recorder is that you can see it on your own or you can see it with children; you do not need parents. I am sure that there are thousands of children who have seen these nasties. I am told, and I believe, that there are thousands of children who get together after school and go round to the house of one of their friends because that friend's parents are out, and who sit and watch these video nasties. Lord Houghton also spoke—and I am not quite sure why—of the field of communications. I cannot understand how one can mention video nasties and associate communication, because the only thing they communicate is filth and disgusting stuff that no one should see, however old they are.

My noble friend Lord McGregor of Durris, along with Lord Houghton, was saying that the trade should be allowed to clean up their own stables, and that if the trade did the regulating then, because they would stop the bad boys getting the normal films or the normal videos, those people would go out of business. But I would suggest that the people who are going to sell these video nasties, whether or not they are classified, could not care less about the normal films: they are going to make a vast profit selling these videos under the counter.

One of the things that people say about this Bill is that if we make this law then these video nasties will go under the counter. I am sure they will, and because of that I should like to see the Bill strengthened so that if you attempt to buy or hire a video nasty from under the counter you will not be quite sure whether there may or may not be a policeman outside watching that shop, and if you go in and buy you may get fined, too. It seems to me amazing that we have had publicity recently about kerb crawlers and prostitutes, and people are being arrested for trying to pick up a prostitute, and yet we are now saying that you can buy or hire a video nasty and the law will not touch you. This seems to me a very peculiar thing.

I was going to say a lot, but there are so many other speakers that I am going to restrict myself to one more thing. The police say that, when you watch these video nasties, most of the action is acted by actors—most. Will you believe me that if, for instance, you took your video camera and went into the outback in South America you could find a little village where very poor peasants live, and that if you had a few dollars you could buy a living child and then you could do what you liked with that child, and film it? I have no proof that this happens, but I have heard it does. So when you watch one of these video nasties and you see a person's entrails being pulled out, how do you know that that is being done by actors?

Yesterday morning I was reading the Sunday Times and I came across a very short article. I will read part of it to your Lordships. It is headed, "The tragic lost children", and the last part of it states: Each year in America it is estimated that 50,000 children vanish, of whom 5,000 are eventually found dead, victims of the kiddie-porn market, of thieves supplying the growing black market for babies, or, perhaps most horrific, of the 'snuff' movie-makers who kill their victims while the camera rolls". That is not South America but the United States of America, and if it happens there it can happen here. That is why, whether or not it is wrong to be passionate about this Bill, I am proud to say that I am passionately for this Bill and will do everything I can to see that it becomes law.

7.19 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for introducing this Bill in your Lordships' House. If the Bill helps to rid the community of the vile violent videos which are known as video nasties, I wholeheartedly welcome it as far as it goes. I believe these videos violate society and that their effect on some immature and unbalanced people could be highly dangerous.

We have been told that crimes of violence have increased. When I read recently of the murder of two young people in a wood by members of a Hell's Angels gang, I wondered whether the murderers had watched video nasties. The history of that horrendous act seems similar to one of the video excerpts shown to us by Scotland Yard.

When recently I was in conversation with a young man who is an inmate at a youth custody centre, he told me without hesitation that all the video nasties should be banned. I was very pleased to hear him say that. So many young people seem not to care nor worry about the evils which infiltrate society; they seem to take violence for granted.

Banning things can sometimes make them more attractive on the black market, but this Bill does, I hope, make the penalties fit the crimes. The growth in the video market has mushroomed and the pornographic and blue videos now in many homes, carelessly left around for children to view, are both confusing and upsetting for them. It does not seem that the Bill can do much about this because so many of these videos are home-made, and it is even more degrading for children to see on a screen their parents involved in sexual acts. Perhaps some of the women's magazines will try to research the problems and change the attitudes of parents and make them more conscious of the effects upon their children.

I should like to ask the Minister some questions about Clause 2(3) and (4). Subsection (3) states: A video work is for the purposes of this Act an exempted work if it is designed for use in training for or carrying on any medical or related occupation, or for carrying on the occupation of a clinical psychologist". Subsection (4) defines the people referred to in subsection (3); they all seem to be medical people or people in closely related occupations. Might not a social worker dealing with child abuse or violence in the home, or an officer dealing with prevention of cruelty to children, need such training? Since I have had only the weekend to look at the Bill, I have not had time to obtain clarification—the rest of my time has been spent on a train—and I should be most grateful if the Minister would explain those subsections.

I believe that there could also be some concern regarding Clause 2(2)(c) when teaching children in schools sex education or human biology. The Minister, the noble Lord Lord Elton, who has been a teacher, will I am sure be able to say whether that concern is valid. The Bill states that the video work will not be exempted if it depicts human genital organs.

I hope that it will not be long before the Bill becomes law. I hope, too, that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, does not hold it up. Had the noble Lord seen the video of the little monkey which had its neck wrung and its head split open, with people sitting around a table in a restaurant eating its brains, or had he seen cannibals splitting people open and eating them, he might think differently. Is that the freedom we want?

I am pleased that the Government are supporting the Bill. I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, on what I found to be a most admirable speech—one that I, and I am sure other members of your Lordships' House, will long remember. I should like to end by thanking the police for the way in which they have made both Houses of Parliament fully aware of these violent and obscene videos. Their concern and effort is most commendable.

7.24 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, as usual I am very pleased to follow the noble Baroness because she always speaks such common sense. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, and the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, for initiating this very important report. When I tell your Lordships that on the working party were four highly qualified members of the academic world, that they had researchers going around schools and that of the 4,500 children who completed a questionnaire, over 40 per cent. had video equipment in their homes, I am sure that even the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, will realise that the report has gone into the matter in very great depth indeed.

As a parent and grandparent I felt that, despite a splitting headache, I should today stand up and be counted. My reason for doing so is that, as other noble Lords have said, it is the children of the country who we want to protect. The Bill deals with grave and growing social evil. A moment ago I mentioned my headache and I shall tell your Lordships what caused it. Had the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, read the all-party Whip, he would have seen that this afternoon upstairs in the television room we had a showing of video nasties, and some of us, myself included, suffered headaches and were almost physically sick from watching them.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, asked whether the Bill was based on the report that we have all read. Of course it was not; it was brought forward in the other place by my honourable friend Mr. Bright as a Private Member's Bill. As I am sure the noble Lord will know, the second part of the report was not publicised until quite recently, and there is still a third part to come.

I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, on his excellent maiden speech and to say that I agree with him that, judging from the way it has acted recently, as presently constituted the BBFC is perhaps not a strong enough body to classify these videos. I hope that the Home Secretary will appoint a board or a consultative council of men who do not necessarily have a lot of letters after their names, but who are people of ordinary common sense who care about the future of our children. I believe that such a council should be appointed by the Home Secretary.

As a magistrate I am very pleased to know that fines of up to £20,000 can be imposed in the magistrates' courts. But I should like to ask my noble friend the Minister whether those who are adjudicating on people brought before them by the police for going against the Bill will be advised to see—indeed will have to see—the films in question before they reach any decision on whether or not they contravene the law.

The right reverend Prelate mentioned a statistic that I should like to re-emphasise. It is that according to the report, 90 per cent. of the parents who were asked for their views thought that society had a duty to help them protect their children from seeing uncensored video films. I consider that that is a very important proportion. Reading last weekend the Report and Third Reading proceedings in the other place, I noticed that there were two Divisions on simple matters. Otherwise, the whole House was agreed on the measure, which is, I think, almost unprecedented. In one Division, only three Members dissented. On these grounds and certainly on every other ground that your Lordships have heard this afternoon, I hope that the Bill will go through as speedily as possible. The nation needs it. I hope that the Government will see that the Bill goes through quickly.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Coggan

My Lords, I take part in the debate as one who has seen a fair sample, if "fair" is the right word, of the films we are discussing. I do not believe in condemning what I have not seen, or in condemning a book or even a report which I have not read. It has been the duty of a good many of us to see these films before commenting upon them. As a result of seeing them, it is clear to me that a stream of material is coming into our country which has a big potential for damaging personality, for inciting to crime and for denigrating sex and particularly womanhood. These things cannot be proved in the way that we can prove that two plus two equals four. However, let me read one sentence—it is a long sentence—and then get your Lordships to guess the origin of it: Unless rigid and rigorous censorship is imposed, unless long terms of imprisonment and very heavy fines are imposed on those who make huge profits out of these appalling publications, it will not be long before these scenes are enacted in real life.". That is not an extract from an emotive speech. It is a quotation from a speech to which two of your Lordships have already referred, made last November by the Lord Chief Justice. I shall come back to that in a moment. Let me make a point, in passing, on which we have only touched tonight—that big money is in this business. Nor are those who sell these films scrupulous about their effects. That is all the more reason why we should be watchful and enter into a quite serious fight.

I have been trying to summon a little sympathy for the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, because he is in a minority tonight. Perhaps the British instinct is to sympathise with him who is in a minority. But I have found it extraordinarily difficult to do so. It seems to me that his speech, if I may say so with great respect, was itself so emotive as to be very lacking in content. This House is being bounced into nothing. We were accused of being bounced into statutory action. The problem is not—I quote again from his speech—a transient one. It is, in a sense, a new one because science has permitted programmes of which we should not have dreamed a decade or two ago to enter our homes.

We are not racing to compulsory controls. We are looking at a Bill which has gone through careful thought in another place and to which we are giving careful thought tonight as a responsible group of men and women. Let us not be intimidated by this question of censorship. This is not entirely a bad word. We have all recently come under the ban of travelling in cars without a seat belt. That is a limitation of human freedom for which I am profoundly thankful. It is quite likely that my own life has been saved in the last few months and there is not a shadow of doubt that the lives of many have been saved precisely by that limitation of individual freedom.

When my children were young I imposed on them, I hope as a loving father, a good deal of limitation of human freedom. I would not have them eat their food when their hands were dirty, and I saw to it that the cutlery that they used was also as clean as I could ensure. These are, however, limitations of the freedom of my children. Is this so terrible? It is an indication of my concern for them.

I was interested some time back—I shall not bore your Lordships with all of them—to read of 12 rules on how to create a delinquent, drawn up not by some pious clergyman but by the police department of Houston, Texas, where they know something about crime. I venture to read two of the 12 hints—or rules, as they call them—on how to create a delinquent. One is: Satisfy his every craving for food, drink and comfort. See that every sensual desire is gratified. Denial may lead to harmful frustration". The other rule is: Let him read any printed matter he can get his hands on. Be careful that the silverware and drinking glasses are sterilised but let his mind feed on garbage". Those are good rules, drawn up, I repeat, by the police of a great North American city. I do not wonder that the police are very anxious that the Bill before us should be passed with an overwhelming majority.

We have heard much about caring for the young, and I shall not elaborate tonight. But there are two other classes, one of considerable dimension and one very small but not to be forgotten, that I would have your Lordships bear in mind.

The first class consists of those who, for want of a better word, I would call the inadequate who, when they see this kind of thing, take the next step for them. What they have seen on the screen in their minds, they carry out with their hands. If the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, finds it difficult to believe the facts with which we are faced today, let him go to the Old Bailey and listen in at some of the courts where, again and again, the cry comes "What led you to this"? and the response, "I saw it in a book. I saw it on a picture".

The other very small class for whom we have a certain responsibility consists of the child actors in these appalling films. Their number is, I think, very small. However, one of the films that I saw had as a major actor a boy. It was difficult to gauge his age, but I should think he was about 12. How much that goes on, I would not be in a position to say. But there is a class there whom I think we should bear in mind. I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has difficulty in believing the number of young people who, it is said, see these films. However, I do not doubt that he comes, as I do myself, from a stable home where there were two parents who kept a watchful eye over us.

Such is not the condition, I was going to say of a majority, but certainly of a very large number of young people in our homes today. The number of one-parent families beggars description. We also have to deal with homes where parents could not care less what their children see, or where the parents are both out working when the children come home from school so that the children go not to their own homes but to those of neighbours. There are also the absentee parents, out at work or on other ploys. These are the children and young people of whom we have to think. Though we may not desire it, we have thrust upon us as the legislators of this country a measure of responsibility to safeguard them.

I had hoped to say just a word about my anxieties as regards the burden of responsibility put on the Home Secretary in Clause 4(1), but I have spoken long enough and the evening is far advanced. Let me cut that part of my speech and say that although some of us might have welcomed a Bill that was put in stronger terms, it is my own hope that this House will give its assent to the Bill before us with unswerving and unwavering approval.

7.40 p.m.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I should like to welcome the Bill. Although I must apologise for having to leave immediately afterwards, I felt that I must remain to speak because so few Peers from this side of the House appear to be partaking in the debate. I should like to follow the most reverend Primate—if I may still so address him—in the line which he has taken as regards this particular matter and to say that we are concerned about not only the protection of the young, but also the prevention of crime. Unfortunately those two matters are very closely linked. Every week we read about appalling crimes being perpetrated by young children. One such crime highlighted last week concerned the death of a particular film star's mother which was caused by three boys aged 12. If it were unique it would be horrible. Sadly it is not unique; it is something which we now read of constantly, to say nothing of the kind of curruption that we see in other areas.

There is nothing as pure as the child. It is we who corrupt children. The young child is honest. One has only to ask young children—and as a teacher I can tell your Lordships this from my own knowledge—a direct question, and they are the only group in the community who will give one a direct and honest answer—sometimes an answer that one does not want to hear. It is society that corrupts the child. If this Bill did nothing else than prevent a few children from being corrupted, it must be worthwhile.

Of course the Bill is limited and of course it could be stronger. We have always heard such arguments advanced about every kind of Bill that has ever come before either House of Parliament. We have also heard the arguments for not restricting freedom. I suppose children should be allowed to go in and buy as much drink as they like, but we do have a law which prevents them doing so under a certain age. I suppose they should be allowed to buy as many cigarettes as they like. Twenty years ago I remember being told in Bristol of the glue-sniffing that was then beginning. When I raised the matter, it was rejected out of hand. I was told that it was nonsense and that it was something that just a few people did. Now we are considering introducing legislation. Are we going to be told again that it is restricting the freedom of the individual? Let us not deceive ourselves, we would not have had seat belts if we had not had legislation. Certainly not so many people would have given up smoking if there had not been strong campaigns by various Governments against it. One of my noble friends says "Shame". I think perhaps he is over 18, so we shall not mind if he does indulge in smoking.

I happen to have in my hand today, purely fortuitously, but it does link with this particular Bill, the interdepartmental circular on crime prevention. We are told that it is the duty of all citizens to prevent crime. No Government can call for law and order unless they have the support of society. We only get the prevention of crime when everyone seeks to prevent it. Crime has many strange and interwoven causes, one of which we can trace certainly to people who watch this kind of video. When I do look at television, which is not very often, I am appalled by the explicit instructions one can receive as to how to commit a crime. I watched a programme last night with my 13 year-old showing how to blow up various people. It was quite explicit. While I have no intention of carrying it out, one wonders how many young children sit and watch the explicit instructions about how to do certain things. Sometimes they are very unpleasant crimes. If they watch these horrible video nasties—frankly I have only sat though a couple of them because they make one physically sick, as the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, has indicated—surely we shall have the same type of copycat crime.

It is very interesting that every time a crime is committed there is always another exactly like it. The slashing of the baby in the pram is a crime that one had not heard of until recently but suddenly and mysteriously the next week we get another one. There are vulnerable people in our society. I know from when I was teaching, that if one read a story to children who came from good, secure, loving homes—and some of the Grimm's Fairy Tales are pretty horrific—it was always fantasy to such children; but children from insecure and broken homes are much more vulnerable to all these things that they will hear and certainly will see.

We are living in a very visual age. That is exemplified by the mere fact that we use the Latin video, audio and disco. We are living in an age when everything seems to be visual. I deplore the fact that we have more video machines than books and that we have fewer bookshops than people selling videos. But that is the situation and here is an instrument which can provide a great deal of pleasure and many cultural opportunities, but it can equally provide something which can be quite detrimental. I wish the Bill fair passage. No doubt in Committee there will be opportunities to strengthen various clauses. At least it is a start in the right direction to protect our children from further corruption.

7.47 p.m.

Lord Robertson of Oakridge

My Lords, first I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, on his speech. We must all admire his clarity and conviction and the concise nature of his remarks. I welcome the Bill and I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for the way in which he has presented it to the House. It brings a measure of much needed control to the video industry. As the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has said, much of that industry adds to our enjoyment of life. Unfortunately, one sector of it produces material that can only be described as frightening and harmful—as those of us who have seen examples of it can vouch. Just as there are controls on the supply of chemicals that might poison the body, it is surely right that there should be controls on material that might poison the mind.

I have just two points to make on the Bill. My first point concerns the relationship of the Bill to the Obscene Publications Act 1959. Indeed, if that Act were more effective, the need for the Bill would be less urgent. The particular aspect that I would like to mention is the possibility that, in the event of a prosecution under the 1959 Act concerning a video, the fact that the video had a classification certificate under this Bill might be used as a defence. I believe that the Bill should state quite clearly that nothing in it affects the 1959 Act.

Before going to my second point I would make one observation. I believe that we should not lose sight entirely of the fact that we are concerned not only with the worst end of the market, because there are some real works of art to which we need to pay attention. For example, many of us recently enjoyed on Channel 4 the generally lovely series, "Jewel in the Crown". However, that series has contained some really explicit scenes of sex that I am sure I would not have wanted my 8-year-old son to have seen. The BBFC would surely not be able to give that a classification which would enable it to be seen by people of all ages.

My second and main point is to emphasise that the criteria for classification certificates for videos must be different from the criteria for certificates for films to be shown in a cinema or club. I have no quarrel with the requirements as they are set out in Clause 7. What concerns me is the way in which they are apparently being interpreted. Reading the debates on the Bill in another place, I was astonished to see that it was widely—although not universally—being assumed that not only do the requirements set out in Clause 7 correspond with the requirements for certificates awarded to films, but also that the same categories and symbols would be used for the classification of videos.

Videos cannot be treated in the same way as films. There is, for instance, a great difference between the consequences of giving a film an R18 certificate for showing in adult club conditions and in giving a video work a certificate that it is only suitable for viewing by adults, even though it may be supplied only through a sex shop. It cannot be said often enough that, after a video has left that sex shop or other point of supply, there is no way to ensure that it is not passed to anyone of any age or shown to children.

A recent example brought this home to me. A teacher at a local school told me that one day she asked a five-year-old boy what time he had gone to bed the night before. He said, "Half past eleven". "What were you doing?" she asked He said, "Watching a video film". "Was it nice?" she asked; "It was very rude", he said. She then asked, "Did your parents let you watch it?" and the boy replied "Oh yes, my dad made me watch it". The teacher then asked "Was your mum there?" and the boy said "No, dad didn't let her watch". The report, Video Violence and Children, showed that an appallingly large number of children see even the worst form of video nasty.

It follows that the criteria for granting a certificate for cinema showing do not by any means always meet the corresponding requirements in respect of a certificate for video supply. For videos a different, and I am sure almost certainly stricter, test must apply. I envisage that the same moving picture could properly be given a 15 or an 18 certificate for cinema showing and yet, as a video supplied to the public, it would be given only a certificate for sale in a licensed sex shop.

Furthermore, the authority might well consider that a film given an R18 certificate for cinema club showing, might not merit a classification certificate at all as a video. This problem is, of course, hinted at in Clause 4(1)(a), which requires the designated authority to have special regard to the likelihood of videos being viewed in the home. However, your Lordships may well feel that this is a point which should be spelt out more definitely in Clause 7. In any case it is essential that, when the designated authority is set up and given its guidelines, it should be asked to use different and possibly more stringent standards reflected in a separate system of categories and symbols.

I emphasise that I would not alter the requirements as they are set out in Clause 7, but that we should not use the same symbols for videos—U, PG, Rl 8, and so on. I should be very interested to hear the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and, indeed, the comments of the Minister on the two points that I have raised—namely, the relationship of the Bill to the 1959 Act and the need for separate criteria and symbols for the classification of videos. I believe that these are almost certainly two questions to which we should return at the Committee stage.

7.53 p.m.

Lord Buxton of Alsa

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, on his maiden speech, to which I listened with considerable envy and mortification when I recall the dreadful delivery of my own maiden speech. I shall speak very briefly on one point which has not yet been mentioned, except being very briefly touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, who seemed to indicate that he was disposed to have this matter considered further.

Therefore, as it concerns the broadcasting services, I must declare an interest as a director of Anglia Television in the East of England and as chairman of Independent Television News. Today I am concerned only with the principle of good legislation and efficiency, and the avoidance of an unnecessary scale of bureaucracy and duplication, which will occur as the Bill stands. It concerns primarily Clause 2 where exemptions are set out, and they do not include part of the output of the BBC and the ITV. It makes no sense for some programme material, which has already been broadcast with the approval of the BBC and the IBA, still to be the subject of some further censorship by yet a third party. I must urge that all programmes and material which have already been broadcast on the BBC or ITV, with the approval of the two Government-appointed bodies, should be exempted, or that none of the programmes should be exempted. It is absolutely unworkable that it should be half and half.

The chairman and governors of the BBC are appointed by the Home Secretary to fulfil that function for their service. The chairman and the members of the IBA are also appointed by the Home Secretary to fulfil that function on ITV. How, therefore, can a Government suddenly imply that they have so lost confidence in their own appointees that they no longer trust their judgment? If that is the case and if they have no confidence in the BBC governors or the members of the IBA, then surely the correct way for the Home Secretary to deal with them would be to get rid of the members, and find more trustworthy and reliable replacements.

The very last thing that any government should do—and surely not this Government of all governments—is to involve yet a further tier of officialdom and have one bureaucracy longstopping another, and confirming or otherwise the judgments of the first. Let me make this clear with a simple example. Let us say that a highly reputable entertain-ment show or brilliant play is shown on TV in the home and watched by the family. It has been allowed either by the BBC or by the IBA, and all the family watch it. That is fine so far. But then, as things are, if the ITV company or the BBC decides to exploit the production further and make it available on video, that same play cannot be shown on the same screen in the same home to the same family without being censored again by the British Board of Film Censors. I hope that that simple explanation is enough to show that a further amendment is needed under Clause 2.

Of course, it is quite obvious to those of us in broadcasting that such a situation could lead to serious confusion, where different judgments might be made by different bodies about the same productions. It could easily result in the lowering of standards and the loosening of controls and disciplines through the dilution of authority and the diminishing of responsibility, and thereby achieve the very situation which my noble friend the Minister and the Home Office are seeking to avoid.

It is true that a large proportion of BBC and ITV material will be exempt where it is designed to inform, educate or instruct, or where it is concerned with sport, religion and so. But that is not rational because what is not exempt is, for example, the very vital quota of high quality drama and entertainment—areas where both the IBA and the BBC have decades of experience. It would create a highly undesirable, inefficient and confusing anomaly to discriminate between the broad spectrum of television output in this way.

Nor is the argument sustainable that further controls are necessary because different standards apply on television throughout the evening. An undertaking has been given by the services to mark and clearly identify all such material; to classify them on behalf of the Government: for example, "Post-9 o'clock", "Post-10 o'clock", and so on. The IBA and the BBC are in a far better position to monitor and classify these aspects than yet another bureaucratic longstop.

Failure to give exemption to all broadcast material would be a vote of no confidence in the authority and independence of the BBC governors and the IBA members. Surely for this of all Governments, so determined to rationalise central and local government, it would almost amount to a banana skin to pile up more bureaucracy, and run completely counter in this single instance to their own strategy. I find it somewhat embarrassing to make these points from these Benches. I would therefore ask my noble friend the Minister to keep an open mind on this particular aspect and promise to give it further consideration when it comes to Committee.

8 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, if I cannot share the unqualified enthusiasm of most of your Lordships for this Bill it is essentially for three main reasons. First, as a strong supporter of the freedom of the individual I am naturally hesitant about any extension of censorship, which I find as objectionable as I do seat belt compulsion, the hysterical anti-smoking campaign to which we are currently being subjected, or any other aspect of the Nanny State.

Lord Somers


Lord Monson

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Somers, will have plenty of time to speak in due course if he will kindly allow me to continue. For the same reason I believe even more strongly in the maxim that an Englishman's home is his castle, and I have over-heard a number of Members of Parliament express the belief that this Bill as it stands does not go far enough and that the police ought to be given the right to raid the homes of private citizens if they suspect that an illegal video film is being shown, or is even being stored, there. I do not suppose that any amendments to this effect would necessarily be agreed to by your Lordships, although having heard the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, I am not so sure. But I cannot help worrying that this Bill, or rather the climate engendered by this Bill, might pave the way for such an authoritarian measure at a later date.

The third reason is that I find unattractive all extreme views on matters of morality. Fifteen years ago a humourless and intolerant permissiveness—if the phrase "intolerant permissiveness" is not a contradiction in terms—was in the ascendant. So much so that anyone getting up at a university or polytechnic and speaking in favour of virginity, let us say, was virtually in danger of being lynched. This was at the end of the 1960s. Now the pendulum is swinging right back towards the other extreme—rather too far back, as pendulums tend to do—towards a humourless and intolerant puritanism. We have not arrived there yet, but I fear we are heading that way.

Let me give just one illustration. Ten years ago, in matters of sexual morality, censorship and so on, Britain was much more liberal than Spain or Portugal. Today, the reverse is the case, in some respects at any rate. Having made all that plain, I do not for a moment suggest that the status quo is satisfactory, or that some action does not need to be taken; but classification, as we have in the cinema already, is one thing, outright prohibition is another. Censorship in the sense of outright banning should surely only be employed when national security is concerned or where the material in question is judged likely to encourage or incite people to commit serious crimes.

Into this category I would put what the Americans call "snuff" films, an example of which we were shown by the Metropolitan Police recently, where a simulated or even in some instances. I believe, a real murder is filmed by a hand-held camera. Such video films have no parallel in literature, in the theatre, or the cinema. They are without any redeeming feature whatsoever and almost certainly do encourage people to commit violent crime, and I would entirely agree that they should be banned outright.

But as for material which is not in that extreme category but which is nevertheless tasteless, crude, offensive and 10th rate, such as the clip from the film on cannibalism which we were shown—I am sure that no one seriously believes that people have seen that film are going to rush out into the street and bite great chunks out of their neighbours—for films of that nature surely the sensible and pragmatic French have found the right answer.

The French do not ban such material but they tax it, and tax it heavily. This has proved extremely effective. Producers in France nowadays cut explicit material out of their films in order to try to get them into a lower tax category. Many cinemas which used to specialise in pornographic films have now either closed down or have switched over to showing films more suitable for family viewing, and to the extent that such films are still shown much useful revenue is raised for socially desirable objectives like schools and hospitals. In other words, such films are heavily discouraged by fiscal means, as we discourage alcohol and tobacco and gambling, but in the last resort the freedom of choice compatible with a free society is preserved.

Of course, most so-called video nasties are, in their different ways, unpleasant and sometimes repulsive to most of us, but we should remember two things. Many hundreds of thousands of people apparently, judging by the sales figures or the rental figures, enjoy these films: not simply solitary men in shabby mackintoshes but many tens of thousands of happily married couples. There is obviously, and always has been, a deep human craving to experience fear and vicarious, as opposed to actual, violence. This can be seen in folklore, legends and fairy tales from hundreds of years back. The Victorians in particular loved bloodshed. Hence their fascination with the murders of Jack the Ripper, and their addiction to the works of Edgar Allan Poe and others who wrote in a similar vein.

The other point to be made is that nastiness is by no means confined to videos. "Video nasty", like "Fortress Falklands", is no more than a phrase coined by journalists. We might just as logically speak of wide screen nasties, or radio nasties, or folio nasties. An example of the latter might be the paperback which I saw on prominent display in a perfectly ordinary newsagent-cum-tobacconist's shop in a provincial town not so long ago, the cover of which depicted luridly a man's hairy forearm holding by her golden tresses the severed head, with her eyes lolling upwards, of a girl of about 16, with blood dripping copiously, as your Lordships might imagine. This book was published—I did not get the title—by the New English Library, which I assume to be an old-established and respected publishing house. It does not seem entirely logical that the static depiction of a gruesome decapitation should be considered quite all right, but that an animated depiction of the same scene should be considered wholly beyond the pale.

Then we have the books of the best selling author Harold Robbins. The first, and I may say the last, novel of his that I read was almost solely concerned with the sexual humiliation and maltreatment of women. Indeed, one of the heroines, if that is the right word, derived her sexual satisfaction from being slapped extremely hard across the face by men. What an example to give to the hundreds and thousands of young men who quite obviously have read that book! Yet I do not hear anyone suggesting that booksellers who sell it, or librarians who lend it out, should be fined up to £20,000.

There are also near parallels to many of the video films shown in the cinema. The noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, in his excellent maiden speech mentioned the film "Caligula". I can think of many others which feature rape, extreme violence and bloodshed; many well-known and widely-distributed films. There was "Straw Dogs", several films starring Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood, and a large number of British made Hammer films, most of which are shown late at night (I can think of one in particular which featured a failed Shakespearean actor who took horrible revenge on his enemies in ways described in Shakespeare tragedies); the Kung Fu films from the Far East; "Mondo Cane", which was almost certainly the precursor of the video nasty we saw the other day, dealing with real life maltreatment of animals: a highly pretentious and cynical film, but one which had wide critical acclaim at the time and was followed by an even more violent and extreme sequel. Then there was "The Exorcist" which, in my opinion, was a nastier and even more disturbing film than most, if not all, the video nasties that we saw, partly because it was so well made. Well made and well written films are more dangerous than badly made and badly written films, because well made material touches people's imagination. (Children have a lot of imagination, and so badly made things are not so dangerous in that respect). I understand that a number of people all over the world who saw "The Exorcist" had subsequently to receive medical or psychiatric treatment, yet this film has been shown all over Britain and is available on video tape.

What the promoters of the Bill seem to be gunning for mainly is the medium rather than the message. They may be right in so doing, in so far as the re-run facility on a video set—although I do not have one myself and I do not know many people who have—apparently enables particularly gruesome scenes to be re-screened time and time again. This is not possible when the identical film is shown in the cinema. They may be right also in so far as irresponsible parents apparently allow young children to watch such things; although, in passing, this might be an equal argument for banning the sale of cigarettes or outlawing off-licences on the grounds that irresponsible parents might allow children to knock off a bottle of Tia Maria or Bailey's Irish Cream when those parents are out for the evening.

Accepting as I do that something must be done, and that this Bill is probably the most obvious vehicle for doing it, have the snags and obvious anomalies been sufficiently thought out? It is not every day by any means that I find myself in full agreement with a leading article in the Guardian, but I am bound to say that I found considerable food for thought in the leader of 20th March entitled "All things Bright aren't beautiful". For instance, should the capricious and often extremely unfair Obscene Publications Act—here I disagree with a number of noble Lords—be allowed to operate in this field, if and when this Bill is passed? A supplier may be sent to prison for supplying a properly classified film in one part of the country, but another supplier in a different part of the country or even in the same town on a subsequent day, when a different jury has been empanelled, might be acquitted unanimously, as I believe has happened. Should films passed for the cinema be banned from video sale? Other noble Lords have mentined this. If so, what about cinema films shown on television late at night? Would it be illegal to record and then lend these films to friends for £1 or £2 at the risk of a £20,000 fine? It would seem so, at the moment. Would someone who lent an unclassified film to a neighbour as a quid pro quo for being invited for a meal, a glass of beer or a cup of coffee, be liable to a £20,000 fine?

One could concoct an extremely nasty video film compiled entirely from clips from BBC and ITV newsreels. Would a £20,000 fine not be applicable here? I am thinking of massacres in the Lebanon, the victims of death squads in El Salvador, murders of police and off-duty soldiers in Northern Ireland where the cameras zoom in on the pools of blood in the gutter, as they invariably do. Would the £20,000 fine be applicable here, even though all the material of which the film was comprised has already been shown on television, often quite early in the evening?

If no video films were yet in circulation one might be inclined to brush these reservations aside on the grounds of urgency and of acting before they started circulating among the general public. But the stable door has been open for a long time and the horse bolted long ago. There must already be several millions of video films, many of them categorised as "nasty", in private homes all over the country: the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, told us that 2.4 million foreign films had been imported in 1983 alone. It would seem sensible to get the Bill absolutely right before it passes into law. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, that ideally it should be sent to a Select Committee.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Hampton

My Lords, I speak today for myself and not for my party. I want quite briefly to express my personal horror at the circulation of these video recordings, nicknamed somewhat politely "video nasties"—and Lord Ashbourne, in an admirable and considerately short maiden speech, referred to that—which the Bill is designed to limit. That, as it stands, it would do so entirely satisfactorily is questionable, but that will have to be gone into more fully in Committee.

I have seen clips from some of these films, as have other speakers; and I have studied both parts so far published of the report of the Parliamentary Group Video Inquiry. I understand that the validity of the group's findings has been questioned, but from my own experience and my trust in the intelligence and integrity of the working party I am prepared to accept them as being very largely correct. I am appalled at what seems to be considered fair entertainment by some. I am perturbed that there has not been an even greater outcry against these films, and there appears even to be boredom in some quarters. I would ask anyone in any doubt to make an effort to see at least part of one of these films and to read the report to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich also referred. I am convinced that they will be profoundly shocked.

I attended a viewing some weeks ago of clips from some thoroughly nasty films. I found them so unpleas-ant that I left the room for a time, but, deciding that there was a need to see what was going on, I went back in. I understand that other viewings have been given, but I emphasise my own reaction. I was just in time to see what some other noble Lords have referred to: a scene that we were told was not simulated but had actually taken place as we saw it. A small monkey was beaten and then eaten raw, the flesh being taken off it while it still appeared to be alive. Lady Masham of Ilton also referred to this. The clip was short and vile.

After the showing I had a stiff drink with a friend and seemed largely to forget the whole operation in a routine day's business. That night I went to sleep as usual, but woke up about two o'clock suffering from a vicious nightmare, such as I do not remember having had since childhood. I thought I would be haunted by this film for a long time, but by a conscious effort over nearly half an hour I managed in time to free myself from its effects. I use the word "free" advisedly, because I felt weighed down by evil memories.

Think what effect these films must and do have on young children—because the report states that many children from 7 to 16 have seen at least one violent video film. I am not certain which is most worrying, the number of children (and the later report will be more specific) who seem to be thoroughly disturbed by these viewings or the number who seem to enjoy them. They enjoy the horrific and compete with each other to get hold of the most sickening scenes.

Another point that the report brings out is the parental neglect that allows children to get hold of films that the parents know nothing about, and of which they would probably disapprove if they did. It has been suggested to me that we must "keep the balance"—as if we had not already lost it—and that the censorship that John Milton opposed must not be allowed to rear its ugly head. My reaction is that I wish we had Milton to speak in your Lordships' House today in opposition to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. He could have expressed what I am seeking to say so much more eloquently. We can at least recall with gratitude those memorable words: None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but licence". If children are supposedly "free" to watch what they like, they can become enchained by a vicious evil.

I believe these films may be encouraging what might be termed a "concentration camp" mentality that gets gratification from viewing suffering. Significantly, one of these films is called "SS Experiment Camp". I understand that one of the less haunting scenes is where a man has his eyes burned out. I do not know whether any noble Lord has seen it.

There are those who believe that to outlaw these films would be to establish a black market. To this I say, "So be it". There was a thriving black market in food at a time of food rationing during the war, but the system probably worked fairly 99 per cent. of the time. If a law literally cannot be enforced it is nonsense, but I see no reason not to legislate here just because the law will sometimes be broken.

Some of my colleagues are more worried about the censorship implications than I, and I am glad that my noble friends of the SDP are taking part in this debate. I accept that I may be speaking more from the heart than the head, but I feel most strongly that these horrific films bring great discredit to what should be an honourable trade—and the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, mentioned this. I am appalled that people commission them, and find it barely credible that people can act in them and retain their peace of mind. My noble friend Lord McGregor mentioned this, as did the noble Lord, Lord Coggan. What is also very worrying is the implication in the report of a widespread lack of parental control. My party believes deeply in the liberty of the individual. I see nothing but enslavement of mind in what we are here discussing. Whatever else we may differ on, I have no doubt that we should all unite in condemning unreservedly a very sick line of trade. I support the Bill wholeheartedly.

8.21 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Somers, has indicated to me that he was not going to speak in the debate this evening because all the things that he wished to say had been well said by other speakers. This was a self-denying ordinance which perhaps I myself would have done well to follow. I want to say that I generally welcome the Bill for many of the reasons which have been put forward earlier. Let us just remind ourselves that this Bill has become necessary because of the large number of video cassette recorders that are now becoming available in our country. The development in our decade of video cassette recorders is very similar to the great boom of television sets in the 1950s, 30 years ago. It is calculated that something like 25 per cent. of our homes now have video cassette recorders and it has been estimated that by the end of this decade the number may well have grown to something like 70 per cent.

I think that we want to get this debate in context and really to welcome video, as such, as a potentially enriching thing on our homes and in the country; that it can have great opportunities in developing a wide range of educational material in the arts, the sciences, in religion, in technical skills and in making people more aware of the new technology. I hope, too, that video can be put to very good social purposes. The working party on the new technology has indicated that video could be invaluable in helping third world countries in educational programmes for health, hygiene and nutrition. I believe that it is in the context of the positive potential of video in this proper, healthy context that we need to express our very real concern about the misuse of video as we have heard in the debate this evening.

As I turn to the Bill, I believe that the classifications put forward in the Bill are very helpful, because they will help people generally, and parents in particular, to know what kind of material is on offer as they go to a shop or a library to buy or to hire cassettes and can then make their choice of material in a more informed way. The effect of the visual image is extremely powerful. It has a much more powerful impact than that experienced in reading a book, even a novel of the kind that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has described. The visual image stays in the mind much longer than the comparable description in the written word; but violence which savours of obscenity, as we have heard already in the debate, degrades the dignity of human beings. In time its repetition could dull and desensitise our feelings so that the things which are abhorrent to us might eventually become acceptable. That, indeed, would be tragic.

Video works are becoming as freely available in our homes today as books are. Children are able to borrow a video where they would not necessarily be able to read a book; and children and the mentally and emotionally disturbed are vulnerable to what can be shown in this category of video nasties. In reaching its classification of video works, it is entirely right that the designated authority should take into account the likelihood of video cassettes being shown in our homes. Of course, it is always possible that some cassettes classified for older viewers may be shown irresponsibly in the home and seen by younger children. But I hope that the passing of this Bill and the attention in the newspapers that this Bill has attracted may be one of the positive influences in persuading wayward parents to be more responsible in what they make available to their children to watch.

My Lords, earlier in the debate, doubts were raised about the quality and results of the research carried out in relation to the exposure of children to video nasties. I have not seen or read the material to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich has referred. But I believe that these particular doubts about this bit of research should not blind us to the very real dangers that are before us. After all, much research has been carried out on the social effects of violence shown on the television screen.

In the September 1983 edition of the BBC publica-tion, The Portrayal of Violence in Television Programmes, Mr. Peter Mennier, the head of the broadcasting research department, summed up his survey of recent research into trends of violence in television in this way: Some researchers have concluded that the attempt to explain what, if any, the relationship is between televised violence and real life aggression has become so weighed down in methodological argument as to be no longer worth pursuing". He then went on to say that neither side could produce clinching evidence. But he concluded his particular statement in this way: that so long as the possibility exists that decisive evidence may be produced to demonstrate a causal link between television and violence, then the worst should be assumed.

My Lords, I think that with video nasties, whatever the quality of research, from the evidence of our eyes the worst should be assumed. This is why the Bill is necessary. Members of your Lordships' House and many other responsible people have seen for themselves video nasties which they have found both nauseating and horrifying. I think it is right that we should legislate against video works that damage, debase and corrupt and, particularly, should be mindful of children and the mentally and emotionally vulnerable people in our community. But, in passing this necessary Bill, let us also be optimistic about the possibilities for good that video may offer to educate, to inform and also to provide good drama and wholesome entertainment. We all want the potential of video to be developed for the enrichment of our lives and to be very careful that the seamier end of the market does not debase and corrupt.

8.30 p.m.

Lady Saltoun

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I should like to pay tribute to the honourable Member for Luton, South, for introducing this Bill and steering it through very sticky waters in the other place, at some considerable personal sacrifice, into the eminently capable hands of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. The last time the noble Lord introduced a Private Member's Bill into this House, I think, to make the wearing of seatbelts compulsory, I opposed him. This time I am happy to give him wholehearted support. Legislation to protect our children from the horrors and corrupting effects of video nasties and unsuitable videos is not only overdue but is a matter of desperate urgency.

Until today, I had never seen one: the descriptions I had read of them, assisted by my own imagination, made me feel too ill to wish to do so. But friends persuaded me that I could not in all honesty condemn what I had not seen, and so this afternoon I did see some excerpts—that is to say, I was present at the showing of some excerpts, which were so horrible and revolting that for much of the time I could not bear to look. How any adult can deliberately watch such things is beyond my comprehension, and the thought of any child doing so is quite dreadful.

Both the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield just now and the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, in his distinguished maiden speech, touched on the point that when you first see or hear something which shocks you very much you may react very strongly and feel sick or have nightmares; but if the experience is repeated frequently your reactions gradually become weaker and you eventually become unshockable by what ought to shock you. You come to accept it as normal. And when this happens to those who have to censor films, then it may account for the apparent laxity of their standards.

I have said before quite recently, and will say again, that if a child reads something horrific or beastly it is bad enough; but there is a chance that he may not understand it all, and the illustrations which his imagination supplies are to some extent limited by his own experience. But when he sees it in picture form his experience is being widened, and in the most undesirable way.

You cannot legislate to make people good, and legislation to protect adults from themselves interferes, in my view, with the freedom of the individual; but surely all of us and indeed all decent people, are agreed that children need protection. We have laws to protect them from cruelty, neglect, starvation, exploitation and so forth. I believe that we led the world in this kind of civilised legislation, as we led the world in abolish- ing slavery. In addition to that, we have an obligation to protect children. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child states that: The child shall enjoy special protection, and be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially, in a healthy and normal manner, and in conditions of freedom and dignity. In the enactments of laws for this purpose the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration. I beseech your Lordships to make the best interests of the child the paramount consideration in your treatment of this Bill. We should have led the world in legislating to protect children from the mental, moral and spiritual damage that video nasties can inflict, and we should not forget that one of the worst crimes in the Christian calendar is the corruption of innocent children.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has given notice that he intends to move that this Bill be committed to a Select Committee. I hope he will think again before moving that Motion because, if he succeeds in doing so, it will mean the loss of the Bill this Session because it will run out of time; and I think the noble Lord knows this. By all means let the Government set up a Select Committee to discuss censorship, the law of obscenity and allied matters; but a stopgap is essential now—not next year but now—and I believe that this Bill provides one.

This Bill is very finely balanced. The line between making a law full of loopholes, with insufficient teeth to bite and unwarrantable interference with the freedom of the individual which we cherish so in this country, is a very narrow one but I believe this Bill sticks to it. Therefore to those who would like to strengthen it, I would say: "Please do not try to. If you do, you may tip the balance so that it becomes unacceptable to the Government and has to be amended again in another place, in which case it will almost certainly run out of time and we shall lose it." I myself would like to see it stronger, but I feel so very strongly that in this case less than a whole loaf is better than no bread. If one day better legislation can be devised, this Act could be repealed.

To those who oppose the Bill, I should like to make this plea: that, if they have not either seen a video nasty, which this Bill seeks to outlaw, or if they have not read Video Violence and Children, Part 2, which is the report of a Parliamentary Group Video Inquiry, or both, they will at the very least abstain from supporting the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, should he move it. For I cannot believe that anyone who has seen a video nasty or read that report will not realise the desperate urgency of providing some legislation to protect our children. My Lords, the eyes of decent parents all over the country are looking to this House to do so. Do not let us fail them.

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